Fire departments need financial support
As the Cape Region continues to grow, so must the area’s fire departments and EMS squads. To do its part, the Town of Henlopen Acres is planning to implement a $50 annual fee for all properties. That money will be earmarked and donated to the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company. It may not be a lot, but it’s a start.
In February, the Cape Gazette published a two-part story about fire departments’ struggles to find new volunteer members as the number of calls grows with the increasing year-round population. Another issue documented in those articles was fire departments’ need for more funding.
At the time, Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Department Vice President Warren Jones said Sussex County provides 50% of its funding. It also receives state grant-in-aid funding, but the rest falls on the department to raise. Jones said when the department solicits donations via mail, it only sees a response rate of about 27%.
If the city were to require all property owners to pay a small fee like Henlopen Acres, it would go a long way in ensuring the fire department is equipped and prepared to respond to all incidents, whether a car accident, a house fire or a cat stuck in a tree.
Fire apparatus is not cheap. Jones noted a new ladder truck costs $1.9 million, and costs are only going to go up.
And while most municipalities already make annual donations to their local fire departments using taxpayer funds, they’re often not enough. Each local government should consider other ways to boost those contributions. A mandatory annual fee is one idea.
Volunteer fire departments provide an invaluable service to residents. If financial support wanes, it will be incumbent on each local government to pick up the slack. If a municipality were to fully financially support its department, it’s likely property taxes would go up more than just $50 per year. It’s better to pay a little now instead of a lot later.