County con­sid­ers pro­posal to get fire de­ci­sion on bal­lot

The Standard Journal - - Local - By AGNES HAGIN Se­nior As­sis­tant Edi­tor

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.

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