County considers proposal to get fire decision on ballot
Polk commissioners are considering a 20-year plan that would create seven instead of nine fire zones in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The idea is to provide coverage with paid and volunteer members of the Polk County Fire Department, a process that would be phased in every five years.
It would include relocating or building new stations to fill existing gaps in countywide fire service. The plan also calls for staffing departments with two to four paid firefighters plus a number of volunteers.
Manager Matt Denton said the proposed plan, estimated to cost $2.6 million, would realign stations. These would have to be renovated or built to accommodate staff on site.
Commissioners have indicated they would make no decision about the proposed fire plan without public input. Therefore, they hope to move forward with the process so that it could be put on the November ballot for a “yes” or “no” vote.
A proposed timeline includes board action and sending wording of ballot for state approval during August.
Commission Chair Marshelle Thaxton said the plan has been discussed for several months.
However, Thaxton emphasized that the county board has made no decision.
“We are viewing the proposal,” he said. “There are benefits that our citizens could realize such as a lower ISO rating.”
Denton said the current rating is six, but the proposed fire plan could drop it even lower.
He pointed out, during a recent retreat, the plan would also involved new operation and mainte- nance decisions.
“I have talked with fire officials in other counties and it varies,” he said. “If the plan is approved, the board would need to decide which stations would be relocated and where to build new ones. Thereafter, they would need to vote on staffing each department with two or more firefighters.”
If the plan gets voter approval, Denton said it would be a long time before a paid fire department would be a reality in Polk.
“It is a process that would take not months but years to be successful,” he said.