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Grants: Imperfect, but much-needed safety net

Grants are needed for communities that lack the funds or that have leaders who lack of integrity or intelligence to provide those services.

Last week, Chief Rob Wylie did an extremely interesting video commentary on state and federal grants. But more so, he examined the attitude of fire departments and local governing bodies toward grants.

I agree with Chief Wylie on most points. Attitudes of entitlement, be it an individual or an entity, or be it over money or power, is a very dangerous thing. It diverts attention away from our core mission and breeds resentment in those around us.

Yet, in the spirit of devil's advocacy, consider this.

State and federal grants are good. Here's why. First, but least important, is that that grant money is still tax money. With each paycheck, the federal and state governments withhold some of my money, part of which goes toward firefighting grants. As a taxpayer, this does not bother me.

It does bother me if that tax money is misappropriated — if the grants are not buying what is needed where it is needed.

But federal and state grants play their most important role by adding balance, or diversification to the fire portfolio. In an ideal world, local leaders would embrace their responsibility to provide fire and EMS protection. But this isn't an ideal world, and some local leaders simply won't allocate money for these services.

Where local leaders refuse to accept that responsibility, grants can and do help.

The problem of local leaders not funding fire and EMS services has no easy solutions; yet, with time and strategy it can be overcome. Chief Wylie's plan (using the acronym FACE Time) is a sound one for addressing this problem.

Where it really gets tricky is with local communities that do not have a large enough tax base to provide those services. Frankly, the poorest communities are those that are most in need of fire protection, not just because of their higher incidents of fire but also because of their members' financial inability to bounce back from a residential fire.

Here, too, I'm fine with my tax dollars propping up services for the less fortunate.

Yes, some will take exception to this, calling it Socialistic wealth redistribution, which fuels the entitlement-attitude monster. As Americans, we have a moral obligation not to allow those who cannot afford basic services go without.

One idea for policing which departments most need federal and state grants is to change the local match. A sliding scale for local matching dollars based on a community's affluence rather than population — the greater a community's tax base, the higher its local match — would discourage those who don't need the money from applying and make it easier for those who do need it.

An attitude of entitlement is a dangerous thing to have. It is necessary for us individuals and entities to keep this monster in check.

Yet so, too, is it necessary for us as a society to provide basic services. Federal and state grants are an imperfect, but needed safety net for communities that lack the funds or that have leaders who lack of integrity or intelligence to provide those services.

We must preserve the safety net and the understanding that it is just that — a safety net.

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