Barnett - LaCrosse VFD IMG 5265

RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

LACROSSE – On Jan. 12, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) made an agreement with the Melrose Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) to continue county service coverage for an additional amount up to $87,000.

According to LaCrosse Fire Chief Paul McDavid, that is not justified when compared to other community situations.

The Town of LaCrosse has had a long struggle with the county over funding for fire protection services.

“The arguments [Melrose made to the county] are the exact same points that the Town of LaCrosse made, only to fall on deaf ears,” McDavid wrote in an email.

LaCrosse has its own fire department and contracts with the County to provide rural fire rescue services to county residents within an approximate 86 square mile area surrounding the town.

It is staffed by certified, paid firefighters and has the longstanding support of actively involved volunteer firefighters, according to the city website, townoflacrosse.net.

Yet according to McDavid, the fire department lacks sufficient employees, a county-owned fire truck, and an adequate roof.

“The Board of County Commissioners offered [to hire] two staff [for MVFD] for Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week,” McDavid said. “They will have two EMT/Firefighters there 24 percent of the time, but volunteer response changes with the time of day and time of year.

“How many can and will respond when the assured two person staff is off? What are you going to get?”

McDavid indicated that County funding for fire protection is not adequately in proportion to the value of property within each service area.

The 2014 taxable value in the 22 square mile area for MVFD was $74,574,530. In the 80 square miles of unincorporated area the LaCrosse FD responds to, the value was $98,353,710.

“Sure, I get that there are several farms and a bunch of pine trees, but…the ‘taxable value’ we protect is $23,779,180 [more],” McDavid said.

“We get $140,764 from theC in 12 monthly installments to handle the calls in 80 square miles.”

According to McDavid, when combined with the funding the county already provides to MVFD, the additional $87,000 will result in overall funding of approximately $134,000, which would be only $6,000 less than LaCrosse receives for covering four times as much property that is also more valuable.

McDavid emphasized, however, that ultimately the concern is whether funding is sufficient to cover a certain area.

“It should not matter what you live in or how big your tax bill is, everybody should be treated fairly and given adequate protection,” McDavid said.

The LaCrosse Fire Department building was built in the 1970s, and with the age comes the need for repairs and maintenance.

The funding the department is hoping to negotiate for would allow for repairs and addressing other priorities, such as investing in proper fire equipment and hiring other firefighters.

“Basically, over the months, April, May, June, July, we’ve been asking for funding, and they came back and said the town needs to be responsible for its own department, which I get,” McDavid said.

An additional $50,000 per year for LaCrosse was brought to a motion at a previous BOCC meeting, but the motion failed without receiving a second.

“We have no hydrants out here, we’re as bad as it gets, we don’t have residents here to support installing new water systems,” McDavid said.

“That $50,000 [could] help this department, but that’s not even to help replace the roof, it’s really to cover our insurance, FICO taxes, and our seven day a week coverage, 365 days we provide.”

As for the next step, McDavid said the blame game needs to stop.

“How about we start that conversation soon,” he said. “All of us. Stop the ‘we’ and ‘they.’ Give Chief Northcutt the funding and resources he needs so he can apply those words ‘innovative’ and ‘progressive’ to his organization. If you must use other organizations [contract stations] to fill the gaps in the meantime, let us look at a level playing field and get on it. Let us change the culture of 'we've always done it that way’.”

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