Editorial: Creative funding by fire district

Cash-strapped North Whidbey Fire & Rescue has developed a new revenue source by charging for responding to motor vehicle accidents.

Fire district personnel are are often the first responders at the scene of an accident, and sending them isn’t cheap. The district estimates each response costs $1,000, an amount previously covered by property taxpayers.

Since implementing the fee, Chief Marv Koorn has billed insurance companies for $28,000. His department annually responds to an average of 200 motor vehicle accidents, so eventually the fee could bring in $200,000. That’s not chicken feed for a district that can’t pass a property tax increase levy. It could be the difference between maintaining adequate service and cutting beyond the bone.

The issue of emergency responders charging for services is controversial. After all, people pay taxes to support fire and police departments. But in dire economic times, creative approaches to achieving adequate funding are needed. The North Whidbey Fire & Rescue board of commissioners showed courage and leadership in pursuing this new source of funding.

Charging for certain services is something the Island County Sheriff’s Office should seriously research. In some cases, residents with faulty burglar alarms require numerous visits by deputies. Why not allow one or two free responses, and then charge for any after that? Animal control might charge for responding numerous times to barking dog complaints. Maybe the dog can’t be charged, but the people who own it can be.

People are tired of seeing taxes go up as their incomes go down. Public agencies should follow the example set by North Whidbey Fire & Rescue and find new sources of funding wherever practical.

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