Fire, Police and Emergency Medical Services
Fire, police and emergency medical services are crucial to our safety and
our peace of mind. But sprawling development is stretching these services thin, forcing us
to jeopardize our safety or pay higher taxes. And, since the true cost of extending these
services out to sprawling communities isn't paid by the new residents, this cost becomes
one more hidden sprawl subsidy.
Fire and police stations are less expensive and land-intensive than roads
or schools, but they entail sizable operating costs. Unlike schools, they are on-call 24
hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, even a small force of firefighters can cost a
community more than $500,000 per year. (20) And since the size and placement of the force
is driven by the need for short response times, the more spread out or poorly planned the
transportation system, the more fire and police stations are required.
In sprawling Phoenix, 18 additional fire stations are planned for new
suburbs over the next 20 to 40 years, costing new and current taxpayers up to $14.7
million annually. (21) Warren County, outside of Cincinnati, is Ohio's second-fastest
growing county-having grown 23 percent since 1990. (22) And, like fast-growing counties
across the nation, it needs more police officers. Six new deputies will cost the county
$281,000 per year. The community of Monroe, also part of Warren County, has seen its
population leap by over 30 percent since 1995. Between 1998 and 1999, fire runs were up by
41 percent, emergency medical calls by nearly 31 percent and police calls by about 11
percent. (23) Fire Chief Mark Neu traces this dramatic increase in fire runs to explosive
community growth. (24)
It's the same story on the East Coast. In
Kennebunk, Maine, new development 25 minutes outside of town has created the need for
another police patrol. The cruiser and officers needed for the patrol will cost this
relatively small town $175,000 a year. (25)
While the costs of more police, fire and emergency services are borne by
both existing and new residents, the extra coverage usually benefits new residents alone.
So taxpayers in existing communities end up footing much of the bill for extending the
public safety net to new areas. Is there an alternative? Instead of building new
facilities and hiring the requisite staff, communities can opt to stretch the existing
service area. But stretching the service area means longer response times, which
sacrifices public safety.
The American Farmland Trust compared police, fire and emergency response
times in four different communities in and around Chicago. Their research found, not
surprisingly, that emergency personnel took longer to reach newer, sprawling communities.
What was surprising was the difference. The fire department took, on average, almost three
times as long to reach new, sprawling development as it did to reach development closer to
existing communities. The difference in response times for most police calls was even more
Instead of extending our service areas willy-nilly, we must follow a plan.
And, we must charge new residents their fair share. Ensuring that new developments pay for
the true cost of these services will save money-and possibly even lives.
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