An interesting idea is floating around. The Buckskin and Parker Fire Departments are talking about consolidating their districts. BFD Chief Troy Maloney and State Rep. Regina Cobb told me the state legislature is encouraging small fire districts around the state to consolidate as a way of saving money and improving services.
The talks are in the preliminary stage at this point. At a work session with the two fire boards Aug. 14, a lot of positives were presented and discussed. However, that could change as the talks move along.
The simple fact of the matter is the two fire districts are very different and the two departments function differently.
Buckskin has a much larger tax base than Parker. They have paid firefighters, while Parker has volunteers. Buckskin also does some things more than Parker does, like water rescues and firefighting.
Let’s not forget Buckskin’s unfunded liability to the state’s Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. Their funding ratio, that is the amount of money they have to take care of present and future demands on the system, is 39 percent. They annually contribute the equivalent of 48 percent of their employees’ salaries to the pension system.
This is something that will have to be considered in any type of consolidation plans.
What most of the issues come down to is money. It’s expensive to operate a fire department, and it isn’t always feasible to do the things you want or need to do with the money that’s available.
Two members of the Parker board stated at the Aug. 14 work session that two of the reasons they were talking about consolidation is because of the Assessor’s error in 2018 that cost the district over $100,000 in anticipated revenue and having to lower their proposed tax rate for the current fiscal year because it exceeded the state-mandated limit.
There’s also the matter of a tax increase. At the Aug. 14 work session, it was stated consolidation would likely mean a property tax increase for the residents of the Parker Fire District.
No one wants to pay higher taxes. However, most people are more inclined to take a tax increase if they feel they are getting more for their money.
These are some of the issues that need to be considered that could stand in the way of consolidation. There are likely many other issues that will come up as the talks move along. It could be this turns out to be a great idea. It could also be that this turns out to be a turkey of an idea once all the facts come out.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
For now, I believe the two departments should continue talking and keep looking into this. They need to find out all the facts before they do anything. They need to first and foremost think of the needs and the safety of their district residents. That has to come above everything else.
Come to think of it, that’s really the only thing they should be thinking about. That’s what first responders are all about. If this allows them to better serve their residents, good. If not, then this idea should be discarded.
It looks like things are getting interesting with these two fire districts.