Ballots for the May 20 election will be arriving in the mail any day now, and it’s time to vote. In addition to the various candidates appearing on the ballot, voters in the Banks and Gaston precincts will be deciding whether to renew five-year operating levies for their respective fire districts.

We strongly believe these levies deserve support.

In both cases, these levies are not new; rather, they extend the existing levies that help the fire districts meet operational expenses.

In Banks, if approved by voters, the levy rate would be 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, beginning in 2015. That is the same levy rate that has been in place in Banks since voters first approved the levy in 2004.

In Gaston, if approved, the levy rate would be 67 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That, too, is the same rate voters have previously approved.

These two fire districts provide emergency rescue, medical care and fire protection services. They safeguard local families and property. Honestly, there really is nothing more important than that.

The Banks Fire District currently has 68 volunteer firefighters and covers 136 square miles. The Gaston Fire District has 26 volunteers and covers 66 square miles.

These dedicated, well-trained men and women are poised to respond within minutes to an accident scene, fire or medical emergency at any time of the day or night. And most of them are volunteers. We consider them heroes, and these levies are the least we can do to help support the life-saving services being provided.

Indeed, these levies are a bargain at the price: operating expenses continue to rise, yet the districts are not increasing the levy rate.

“How much cheaper could we do this? We’re doing it with volunteers,” commented Gaston Rural Fire Protection District Fire Chief Roger Mesenbrink.

The funds raised by the levies will allow the districts to continue to provide emergency fire and rescue responses and (at Banks) advanced life support capabilities; pay for personal protective equipment for firefighters; purchase medical supplies and safety equipment; cover utility costs; pay for firefighter intern programs; maintain equipment and vehicles; offer fire prevention information for area schools; pay for limited building maintenance and enhancements; replace obsolete equipment; and expand volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention, among other things. Nothing frivolous there.

In Gaston and Banks alike, the number of emergency calls has essentially doubled over the past 10 years. In Gaston, the log of calls went from about 280 to 460 a year. In Banks, the district is getting roughly 525 calls a year.

And for a variety of reasons, the fire chiefs of both districts say maintaining adequate staffing levels with a volunteer force is increasingly difficult.

“Keeping a volunteer more than three years is tough,” said Banks Fire District Chief Brian Coussens.

If the upcoming levy passes, Gaston plans to use some of its funding to build a small living area with a kitchen and bunks that would make it possible for interns or volunteers to stay overnight at the fire station, beefing up the core of readily available firefighters.

There is no doubt these fire districts need to maintain their current levels of funding to cover basic operating expenses. These emergency responders could be called on to come to the aid of any one of us, and they need adequate funds to operate effectively. We urge residents to support their local fire districts and cast a “Yes” vote on these measures.

Contract Publishing

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