Monday, March 18, 2013

What Happened In Belle Isle?

Also featured in the April edition of the Conway News, in print and online at conwaynews.com.

Over the past few weeks, residents of Belle Isle, including myself, have been left with many questions as we try to sort out exactly what happened with regard to our City’s sudden and unexpected plan to build a fire department.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Belle Isle City Hall made a decision to break its fire/rescue contract with Orange County in favor of building a small Belle Isle fire station to serve City residents. Although this decision was justified as a cost-saving measure, it was apparent from City Hall’s own studies and internal documents that a Belle Isle Fire Department would actually cost the City significantly more than its fire/rescue contract with Orange County while providing a significantly lower quality of service to City residents.

After a huge public outcry from Belle Isle residents, it appears that City Hall finally reversed course on its plans. In a letter recently issued by the Mayor to the City Manager and City Council members, the Mayor recommended immediate termination of the City’s fire department initiative and renegotiation of the City’s contract with Orange County for fire/rescue services.

In the wake of this drama, many residents want to know how they could have been kept in the dark regarding a major City initiative affecting the safety of their homes and families. Although our City Council voted to authorize construction of a Belle Isle Fire Department in November 2012, most residents didn’t learn of the project until after City Hall had already hired a fire chief and begun the process of buying or leasing fire/rescue equipment.

How did City Hall authorize such a huge project and proceed so far towards completion without the knowledge or input of its citizens? Many residents blame the lack of information available on the City’s website, especially in comparison to the quantity of information available on the websites of other small local cities.

But we, the residents of Belle Isle, must accept that the blame also lies with us for not attending regular City Council meetings to monitor the actions of our elected representatives and make our opinions known. With the rumors presently swirling around Belle Isle of other major City initiatives, such as the potential annexation of Taft, there has never been a better time to start participating in your local government.

Belle Isle City Council meetings are held on the first Tuesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. I hope to see you there!

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