SEWARD COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — The Seward County Fire Department says it’s stretched thin.
“Your volunteer rates have changed and dropped off across the US and not just here,” said Andrew Barkley, the county fire chief. “We’re feeling the effects just like everybody else.”
Later this week, the chief will hold town halls to discuss fully staffing the three fire stations by raising the rural fire tax.
Right now, the owner of a $100,000 home pays $43 per year in fire tax. To have all three stations staffed during regular business hours, that would go up to $73 per year. Having all three staffed 24/7 would be $153 per year.
Liberal resident Lisa Hatcher has farmland and houses in Seward County, including one home that was destroyed in a recent wildfire.
“If we can decrease the response time of getting firemen out there,” she said, “that’s got to help the whole situation.”
She says a tax increase will be worth the extra protection and is open to seeing one of the proposals implemented.
“I don’t know which,” she said. “I’d have to get educated on both proposals to see what I think is, makes more sense, I guess, for our area.”
The chief says wild fires can burn one-thousand acres per hour, and every second counts. Calling in volunteers slows down response times.
“You’re eliminating another five to six minutes off of that by having the guys in the stations automatically,” said Barkley.
Hatcher says the recent wildfires will likely convince her neighbors to support the increase.
“If it sure came close to your home and you watched it come right up to your door, yeah I think that definitely would hit home for a lot more people,” she said.
The two town halls are Thursday at the Activity Center in Liberal and Friday at the Pavilion in Kismet. Both begin at 7 p.m.
Ultimately, the tax increase is up to the county commission, but the chief wants to gauge public interest first.