Garland town officials and fire department personnel need to seek middle ground and seek it quickly before residents find themselves without the local protection they’ve had for decades.
And they need to do it with calm tempers and open minds, with both groups willing to listen and try to understand the issues each face as they all work to do what is best for the town of Garland and its residents.
Last week, Garland officials received a letter from the volunteer squad asking for modifications to its contract, one which was inked with the town in 2009. Most of those modifications are financial — money, the letter states, is needed for updated equipment and to help with matching funds required to receive grants that allow the fire department and its squad to provide optimum service.
The request seeks $11,000 from the town in the 2016-17 budget and $25,000 each year thereafter.
While we have no problem with the fire department’s requests, we do take issue with the ultimatum that came along with it.
“Please accept this letter as written confirmation of the Fire Department’s termination of the contract at the end of this year,” the letter to the town states.
While fire officials are well within their rights to cancel their contract — given that they walked away from town control a few years back, becoming a nonprofit and taking over responsibility of their vehicles and equipment — it doesn’t seem like steps volunteers charged with protecting residents from fire hazards would take.
Yet that’s the crossroads where the town of Garland sits.
It’s a quandary to be sure, and one that needs a quick resolution.
And that’s where finding middle ground is necessary, despite the ultimatum hanging in the air. Town officials need to look beyond the way the request was couched and see the bigger problem — a town without immediate fire protection, something that can happen if some financial terms are reached.
We understand the town’s plight. Garland doesn’t have a massive budget nor a large tax base, and the money fire officials are requesting would be a huge financial hit. What leaders must decide is whether they can afford the request and, if they can, what would have to go lacking in order to provide the fire department those funds.
There’s no question it takes money to upgrade equipment and to provide quality fire service. Garland leaders must recognize that fact, just as they should be aware that the town has some financial responsibility to include the fire department in its budget discussions year after year.
The requested $25,000 annually is likely a stretch for a town Garland’s size. What’s more, it is likely that, with financial prudence, the department could operate on much less.
That’s where middle ground must be found. Garland leaders must decide what they can afford and fire officials need to figure out how they can effectively operate with less. Between the two, a financial compromise could then be found and another contract secured.
At least we hope so. Garland residents deserve the fire protection they’ve had since the 1950s.