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The cost of fire protection in the town of Oswegatchie

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The town of Oswegatchie and the Heuvelton Volunteer Fire Department appear to be at loggerheads over the department’s request for a $3,789 increase in funding next year.

Chief Nicholas B. Friot said the money will not be spent to buy more equipment, but will go toward maintaining or refurbishing what the department already has.

The Town Council’s concern about the funding increase is understandable. The department also provides fire protection to the towns of DePeyster and Macomb, and it could approach those towns to see if they could offer more funding. Town Council members also, understandably, do not want to increase the tax burden on property owners.

The Town Council, however, should weigh more than the dollar figure in making its decision. The fire department provides the bulk of its service to the town of Oswegatchie, and is the closest responder for much of it. Rapid fire response is critically important in a town that covers a large geographic area and is mostly rural.

The department is in a difficult position. It cannot ignore its responsibility to fight fires in the area it is supposed to protect, but it also has to maintain its equipment. The department’s volunteers, who all have full-time jobs and lives, already hold as many fundraising activities as they can while also fulfilling state-mandated training requirements.

While the views of Town Council members are understandable, we think $3,789 is a small price to pay for one of the few but vitally important services the town funds.

Its fund balance could absorb the department’s request if passing the increase on to taxpayers — which Mr. Friot said would amount to about the cost of a bottle of water — would require the town to exceed its 1.7 percent state-mandated cap on property tax increases.

Town Council members should ask themselves: Is the cost of a bottle of water per property owner worth rapid response to a fire that could destroy a property owner’s home or result in the loss of life?

Towns must support their volunteer fire departments to the fullest extent possible, and that means giving them a reasonable amount of funding so they can best protect residents. The Heuvelton Volunteer Fire Department’s request is not an extravagant one, and the town of Oswegatchie, as the area it mostly serves, should give the department the support it needs.

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