Columbia Fire Department reports responses taking longer
COLUMBIA - As the city's population has seen a sharp increase in the past few years, so has the demand for fire service. The question is: Can the city afford the extra help?
Increase in response times
The Columbia Fire Department has found a steady rise in the response times to service calls over the past 6 years.
"We definitely see a need as the population grows to expand the department to meet that need," Columbia Assistant Fire Chief Brad Fraizer said.
Columbia's population increase
The city's population in the past five years has seen an increase of 8,406 people. The trend in population growth spans 15 years. In 2000 there were 87,752 people. In 2010, it jumped to 108,752 people. The most recent census from 2015 reported 116,906 people.
Fraizer said he is concerned about the increase in service calls but is hopeful that three additional stations can cover areas of the city that need them most.
"As our resources stay the same and calls for service go up we see an increase in response time," Fraizer said. "We are very interested in efforts to bring those down."
The need for more stations
Fraizer said the demand for more stations is in south west, north west, and east Columbia. The map below shows station response areas.
How realistic will the funding be?
Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes said funding is the main concern.
"We don't right now have the money to build those and, if we did have the money to build them, we don't have the staff to put in there," Matthes said. "My main concern is that we have a funding gap."
Matthes said, since a majority of people are buying things online, the city has lost a large portion of funding it relies on to fund programs like the police and fire department.
The proposed solution
Matthes said that if Columbia were to tax Internet sales, it wouldn't be a problem.
"Frankly the Internet is eating our lunch."
The process won't be easy, but Matthes said it could move faster if legislation is passed on the federal level. A bill being heard in Congress called the "Marketplace Fairness Act" would make funding additional fire departments possible without increasing taxes.
"The act would enable us to provide the same level of services to every part of town," Matthes said.
If the bill does pass this year, Matthes hopes the stations could be up and running within five years.
"If not, it could take much longer and have to be implemented on a state or local level with a tax increase," he said.
Fraizer said he is hopeful the city council will be able to make a decision.
"We will continue to work with the resources that we are given and provide the best level service that we can."
Matthes said he expects the City Council to begin talking in 2017 about how it will construct a plan to fund additional stations.