The recent fire at a Mound House brothel is bringing renewed debate regarding central Lyon County's all-volunteer firefighting force. While not disputing the abilities and dedication of its members, some are questioning whether a volunteer department is capable of adequately protecting the increasing numbers of homes and industries in the district.
Sounding an alarm of urgency and claiming to speak for many, longtime Dayton resident Armand Arnett is leading the charge. At the minimum, Arnett says the Central Lyon County Fire District must have enough paid firefighters to man four of the district's eight stations with two full-time employees 24 hours a day - no matter the cost.
What would it cost to hire 24 firemen? According to district officials, between $1 million to $1.25 million per year.
The district's 1999/2000 budget is $1.4 million. The current 29.7 cents per $100 tax assessment on all district properties raises approximately $700,000. The remaining revenue comes through state distributed tax monies.
If alternative funding sources cannot be found, each property owner would pay, at the very least, an additional 40 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to raise the needed funds to hire these 24 employees. This would add $40 dollars a year in taxes to property assessed at $100,000.
According to state tax officials, the central Lyon County assessment district can absorb up to another 59 cents in property taxes without affecting the county's remaining taxing ability under the state mandated $3.64 property tax cap. (Meaning: County government and the school district would still be able to increase taxes for bond issues and other countywide needs). No legislative approval is required to do so; however, any fire district tax proposal must be voted upon and approved by residents.
Do conditions in this widespread district, extending from Silver City and Mound House to Silver Springs, warrant asking taxpayers to ante up? Are there other sources of funding? Is fire protection under our current system really lagging to the degree that residents should be concerned for the safety of their property and themselves? What should residents expect for fire protection when they move to this area?
Most volunteer firefighters have full-time jobs. In order to qualify to respond to fire emergencies, they give up many evenings and weekends at home to attend mandated training sessions. It is with thanks to the increasingly intrusive federally mandated training requirements that it has become so difficult to find citizens willing to commit to giving the hours needed to take on this "volunteer" job; but rest assured, those in central Lyon County that do commit and graduate, even as a beginning level volunteer firefighter, are competent and well-trained.
We just need more of them.
District officials say the volunteer situation is brightening. Following intensive recruitment programs over the past year, there are now about 120 volunteers in the CLCFD. They are not equally distributed among the eight stations and most probably work in areas a good distance away from their home station; however, response time to local fires has been relatively good.
Have there been situations where response could have been better? Probably. But before casting stones at the volunteer system, and committing yourself to "better protection at whatever cost," you must consider if the results of past fire emergencies would have been better handled with full time employees. It is not necessarily the responders' fault when tragedies occur. Underlying conditions and the character of the district must be taken into consideration.
A good portion of central Lyon County remains rural. Fire hydrants do not exist in many areas. Water lines are still inadequate in some communities. Yes, subdivisions are sprouting like mushrooms in fertilizer, but numerous one- to five-acre parcels remain.
And regardless of the type or density of the neighborhood, most of our new residents have chosen to move here to enjoy the quality of life, while escaping from expensive home and property costs, high rental rates and high taxes.
Times and lifestyles are changing in all of rural Nevada, and fire stations in central Lyon County will probably be manned by paid employees someday. Just perhaps, however, our state legislators will have found the backbone by that time to put the price tag where it belongs - on the developers.
Until then, or until the tax base of this district can support those services at a more affordable rate, strong community support of our volunteer-based system should serve us well.
Someplace along the line our expectations must change. Government services do not come free of charge; but, there are times when we do have the ability to curb those costs.
The next time you get the urge to complain about the volunteer system of the CLCFD, look in the mirror and ask yourself "What can I do to help make the situation better?" Then call 246-6209.
Think about it.