There are few local government needs people want funded more than their local fire department.
Last year, the town had to wait on Wake County’s budget makers to decide how much money they were going to pony up to pay for fire service. And Garner council members chose not to fund three new positions the fire department asked for, believing the county should pay more of the department’s operating costs than they had in previous years.
When the county finally made its spending decisions, there was no extra money for the new staffers.
As a result, there were times during the past 12 months when Garner’s three fire stations were not fully staffed.
And, now the game begins again. Only this time, Wake County enters the budget season with a new county manager.
Jim Hartmann will begin his duties next month. It’s unclear at this point if he will pursue the same course as his predecessor, David Cooke, and look to get the county out of the fire protection business.
Chances are good, it seems, that a new manager entering his position in the midst of budget season isn’t likely to change the status quo very much.
That means Garner likely faces some tough decisions about how to deal with Fire Chief Matt Poole’s funding requests.
Garner council members can, and should, continue to lobby for more participation from the county. Council members could even propose a plan that calls for the Garner Fire Department to respond only to calls within the town limits. That way, Garner taxpayers see the full benefit of the money they put into the fire operation.
But Garner council members also need to realize there isn’t likely much new help coming from the county. They should begin now looking for ways to pay for one of the most in-demand services the town provides and they should work to pay for it at a level that meets the town’s growing needs.
Failing to meet those needs now will put life and property at risk and dig the town in a deeper hole as costs continue to rise and the department’s needs continue to escalate.