Time to let the people decide

The Dallas City Council should listen with an open mind to guests invited to speak at a future meeting about forming a consolidated fire district.

We agree with those who have encouraged the city to make a strong commitment to working toward asking voters to approve a new larger district. If built thoughtfully, that district would provide better service at a lower cost than each agency could achieve on its own.

Approving the five-year “road map” to a district that would include Dallas, Southwest Polk, West Valley and Sheridan is a good start. Considering agreements to consolidate services such as equipment testing and communications is more progress.

In our opinion, it’s not enough.

Several councilors have said consolidation is the future and are willing to look at in the longterm. We believe the future is now.

Smaller districts surrounding Dallas have read the writing on the wall: The cost of providing service is growing faster than their revenue. Their choices are to ask taxpayers in their districts to pay more in the form of bonds or levies for equipment and operations, cut service, or merge with their neighbors and share resources.

Dallas Fire & EMS may seem more insulated from that because the city’s budget process allows for more money to be allocated to the department if needed. But fire and EMS competes with police, streets, water and sewer for limited resources. The cost of doing business everywhere is on the rise.

The fact is that we’ve already seen the department ask for more money through the fire’s portion of the public service fee approved by the council last year. Within the city, fire response times have decreased from a high of 18 minutes, and with the addition of four new firefighters, they should continue to improve.

However, part of that is dependent on a competitive federal grant awarded to the city this year that has no guarantee of renewal after three years. Dallas has benefited from that same grant in the past, and elected to add those positions to the roster permanently.

The city simply may not be able to afford to continue doing that in the future.

Yes, a district would cost more to taxpayers than the current, separate systems. The trade-off would be a district better equipped to respond quicker — and more often in the face of increasing calls for service — in a time when volunteer recruitment is ever more difficult.

We understand why city councilors are cautious in this process. Dallas has more equipment and resources than the other districts, and rightfully, those elected to represent Dallas’ citizens want to protect that.

We believe the city can better have a say in how its assets are used and protect its citizens by fully participating in the consolidation process.

In the end, it will be the citizens’ job to decide whether they want to be part of a district. We think the council should move toward letting voters choose.

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