Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Volunteer Fire Departments in Northwest Arkansas

An interesting subject crossed my desk this week and gave me something to think about that I usually give no thought to – volunteer fire departments. Why do we have them, what do they do, and how are they funded?

Volunteer fire departments exist to help people in need. Large areas of both Benton and Washington counties are not incorporated. In other words, mile upon square mile of homes, businesses, and roads that are not located within a city or town. Buildings catch fire and accidents happen regardless of man-made boundary lines.

Trained volunteers stop whatever they’re doing to respond to each emergency. The volunteers are just that - they receive no pay for their services.

But fire trucks, maintenance, fuel, insurance, hoses, fire-fighting suits including boots, hats, gloves, and respirators are all very expensive. Buildings are needed to store the equipment and those buildings require utilities, insurance and maintenance.

All of this is funded on a volunteer basis as well. Residents are expected to pay dues to support their fire departments but many do not pay. From what I understand, considerably less than half the property owners actually pay the dues. The fire department must respond whether dues were paid or not. Obviously the non-payers get a free ride.

Pancake breakfasts, chili suppers and donations all help raise needed funds but the majority of the money comes from annual dues.

One Washington County volunteer fire department has decided to try a new way of having everyone pay his or her fair share.

Nob Hill Fire Department serves some 85 square miles in the northeastern part of the county. Dues were $25 annually for many years but had to be increased to $40 in 2007.

Nob Hill asked for and received permission from Washington County Quorum Court to hold an election on January 8th. If voters approve, the $40 membership dues would be added to property tax bills in the fire service area.

Paying the dues would then be mandatory. The revenue stream going to the volunteer fire department would increase significantly without increasing the annual dues.

The whole thing makes sense to me. The amount paid would not change, only the method of payment. There’s nothing fair about less than 50% of the people paying for a service everyone can use. All property owners inside city limits pay taxes for fire service. Why should it be different outside city limits?

With more than twenty volunteer fire departments in Washington and Benton counties, the Nob Hill Election will be closely watched. If it passes, there’s no doubt in my mind other departments will follow suit.

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