Cross Creek residents could be left without a fire department in the near future, forcing them to rely on neighboring towns for help in times of emergency.
According to fire chief Bill Jones, without extra funding, the department will not be able to function for much longer.
“With what we’re getting, we cannot survive more than two or three more months,” said Jones, who has been with the department on and off for 25 years.
The station’s yearly budget has varied over the years. From 2000 until 2011, it operated on a $55,000 a year from the county. In 2011, however, the department’s budget was cut to $40,000, with a promise that the amount would increase $5,000 every year until it reached the previous total of $55,000.
Although the department is once again receiving full funding, Jones believes it is not enough to keep the department alive. He hopes that the county commission will award the station another $40,000 to get to $95,000, a total Jones says is closer to what other volunteer fire departments, like the one in Windsor, receive.
“There’s no cheap way to run a station,” Jones said. “$55,000 cannot run a station in a sufficient way for the community.”
The station, which was built in 1981, is the only station in the area. Barbara Elliott, the fire department’s board of directors president, estimates that a call from other departments—most likely those in Windsor, Micanopy or Hawthorne—would take 20 to 25 minutes.
Of late, the department has been struggling to find volunteer help. Jones said this is because other departments have the ability to pay.
“They’re looking for a job with money,” Jones said. “That’s the bottom line. Everybody has to make a living.”
Currently, the department does not have sufficient funding to employ enough firefighters.
Shirley Preston, vice president of Cross Creek Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors, said the biggest impact of closing the department would be the well being of the residents of Cross Creek.
“The health of the people,” Preston said. “If we get fires, it’s 25 minutes for somebody to respond from one of the other communities— if they’re not on another call— and let’s face it, in the dry season, it doesn’t just burn in one area, it burns in various areas.”
Preston also noted that the fire department was not just another station, but rather a focal point of Cross Creek.
“It is the center of the community, it is where the community comes together. They come together for fundraising, they come together to socialize.”
Jones doesn’t think the department is asking for too much.
“All we’re asking for is enough money to keep people here, to respond to this neighborhood that has a lot of elderly people and they do need service as quick as possible and that’s what we’re here for,” Jones said. “Our job is to be at the scene first, but in order to do that, you need to keep somebody at the station.”
Elliott said department representatives have met with all of the county commissioners, Alachua Fire Rescue Chief Bill Northcutt and Assistant County Manager Carl Smart, presenting them with information packets about the station.
The department’s funding is on the docket for the County Commission meeting on Feb. 14.
Elliott said she doesn’t want to continue feeling Cross Creek is left out.
“We’re sick of Cross Creek being at the bottom of the pile.”