February 19, 2014
Fairmont residents might have thought they were eyeing an article from the satirical digitial publication “The Onion” on Wednesday when they read The Robesonian’s recap of that town’s Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday night.
The commissioners floated the idea of doing away with fire and police protection that is provided by the town under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety.
They sure did.
Fairmont, like most municipalities during these depressed times economically, is struggling to pay its bills, and there will now be a study to see if farming out police and fire protection might save the town money. The plan would be for police protection to be picked up by the Sheriff’s Office and fire protection to be turned over to the Fairmont Rural Fire Department.
Given that more than 40 employees could potentially exit the town’s payroll, there is the opportunity for substantial savings — but at what cost?
Ironically, this news was delivered shortly after Danny Parker, the chief of Public Safety, delivered to the commissioners his annual crime report, which showed police made arrests in two-thirds of the 671 crimes reported during 2013, and made arrests in both murders that occurred in the town. Parker makes a strong case that his department is among the most efficient in the county at its job of protecting local residents.
If the town were to farm out its fire and police protection, here’s what we can guarantee you: Town residents would not only feel less protected against crime and fire, they would be so.
The response time for calls concerning criminal acts would be longer and we suspect investigations would be less determined. Additionally, insurance rates would go up as would the fire risk to residents and businesses.
We don’t know how far down this road Fairmont will travel, but we see a dead end close ahead. We doubt that the Sheriff’s Office, which is understaffed and overwhelmed in a county with high crimes rates both with violence and property, has any interest in taking on new territory.
The seven-member Fairmont board in recent years has seen significant turnover, with three new commissioners and a new mayor being sworn in during December. They are finding out that governance isn’t always easy, and that decisions can be weighty.
But they volunteered for this assignment, which includes making Fairmont residents feel better protected against crime and fire, not less so.