A few months ago, residents in the town of Victor had a real opportunity for change when it comes to fire protection. This change would have consolidated the Victor Fire Department and the Fishers Fire District.
While I was mayor of the village of Victor, a public safety committee in place voted on bringing in an organization called the Centers for Governmental Research. CGR was tasked with taking an honest look at the emergency service delivery within the town of Victor. As the village mayor I kept an open mind to the process, but I also had reservations. The village of Victor and the residents of the Victor fire protection district enjoy a small tax of $0.93 for every $1,000 assessed. This is in contrast to the residents of the Fishers Fire District, where they pay $2.50-plus for every $1,000 assessed for fire protection. The conclusion by the committee and CGR was it made financial sense to merge. This new consolidated joint fire district would decrease the taxes in Fishers and increase the tax rate in Victor, but we would be able to control the long-term growth or taxes within the whole town.
For the last 30 years, volunteer fire service has been dramatically decreasing. Training requirements have more than doubled in addition to fire company commitments, drills, fundraisers, etc. It’s like taking on a full-time job with no pay. As Victor becomes more of a bedroom community to Rochester, most people don’t have the time to commit to helping provide this free or volunteer service to their neighbors, a sentiment expressed by former Fire Chief Joe Murphy and current Fire Chief Sean MacDoo of the Victor Fire Department. Their membership is, and has been, declining. Meanwhile, the Fishers Fire District has already gone through this. They have taken steps to provide 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week paid personnel to augment their firefighting force.
Consolidating Victor and Fishers into one fire district would have saved a considerable amount of money long-term. However, short-term was going to be the challenge. Nobody needs the fire department until they have a fire or a medical emergency. All the trends point to a complete consolidation of all the fire departments in Ontario County. This would consolidate around 30 fire departments into one fire district. Currently, state law prohibits this, but I believe this can be changed. As our county grows, the demand for services increases, and as volunteer firefighters decrease, we’re going to need more resources. We need to provide these services to our citizens, but do it in a way that makes financial sense. By consolidating into one fire district, we can control the growth and taxes to this new one governmental agency. The greater number people that pay a little, the better the services that can be provided.
In 1966, the Johnson Wax Foundation had a conference at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin. The conference brought in fire service and government leaders together to talk about consolidated fire services. It was stated that it is not economically feasible for any single governmental jurisdiction to equip and man itself with sufficient firefighting forces to cope with the maximum situation with which it may be faced. The lack of understanding of this principle has caused many communities to be caught short of fire suppression resources or pay more for the same resource and services.
In the end, the newly-elected fire commissioners of Fishers voted down this proposal. I believe it was a huge misstep in our community. We will see.
Jason Ashton of Victor is former village mayor.