For some time, it has been clear that many local communities have a problem providing basic emergency services.
That is a life-and-death concern.
We also know our communities are not only aging, but the population base is shrinking, and the number of residents able to volunteer continues to dwindle. As costs have risen, some communities have struggled to adequately fund their squads.
We expect all those trends to continue, especially in rural communities, in the coming years.
So it was welcome news this week that State Sen. Elizabeth Little and Assembly members Dan Stec and Carrier Woerner co-sponsored legislation to provide a pathway to future emergency services by using taxing districts.
The legislation allows a broader geographic definition of these districts beyond neighboring communities, while still allowing support for emergency squads that are getting the job done.
The proposed legislation would allow a municipality to establish a special district with “any county, city, town or village” to make the service more affordable and more efficient.
Response times in rural areas have been a concern in upstate New York for some time.
According to a New York State Department of Health analysis of response times in emergencies, rural counties are trending significantly higher than the state average.
While the state average was just over 13 minutes, Warren County’s average response time was over 21 minutes; Essex County’s, 25 minutes; and Hamilton County’s, 53 minutes.
So while no one likes the idea of another tax, this new legislation would allow for an equitable way to fund emergency squads that could be as broad as county-wide or as narrow as neighboring communities.
It opens the opportunity for a broad discussion unencumbered by state mandates.
It is estimated the emergency taxing district would cost homeowners between $25 and $50 a year, depending on the assessed value of their homes.
The tax would provide revenue for equipment and personnel to significantly improve service and response times in communities that don’t have rescue squads, while supplementing those communities that already have squads.
It appears to be a win-win situation for all concerned.
While no one has embraced any one plan, if this new legislation is passed, it could increase the options for solving the problem.
We’re hoping that Sen. Little, Assemblyman Stec and Assemblywoman Woerner can quickly move this legislation through committee and get it passed.
Time is of the essence, because this is life and death.