GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

February 28, 2013

Editorial: Fire safety tops budget needs

It’s hard to believe that with just four months left in another fiscal year, and eight months into the term of first-year permanent fire chief Eric Smith, Gloucester is still all-too-often closing its Bay View fire station, and even more regularly, the station in Magnolia.

And it’s to their credit that councilor-at-large Bruce Tobey and Ward 4 colleague Jackie Hardy — who is council president and whose ward includes Annisquam, Bay View and Lanesville —continue to press for money from the city’s $4.8 million free cash account to staff and operate those facilities.

But it’s more important that Mayor Carolyn Kirk and other city officials recognize that, as a new budget year looms, all eyes will be focused squarely on how the department and City Hall address an issue that should remain as Gloucester’s top priority — finding an effective means of providing city residents, especially those in outlying areas, the kind of fire protection they pay for and deserve.

Yes, some answers must come in the form of contractual changes that have to be negotiated. And, no, keeping the stations open cannot be limited to pouring more and more dollars into the Fire Department’s overtime account, the primary answer to date. But whether it means carving out a new contract and a restructured department, or whether it means hiring additional firefighters to keep a lid on overtime yet still have the staff the city needs, the answer cannot be to simply maintain the status quo.

Residents who live in Magnolia, Lanesville, Bay View and Annisquam pay taxes at the same rates as those who live elsewhere in the city, and those tax dollars are supposed to include adequate fire safety coverage. It’s time they got it.

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