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Too important for turf fights

That there ever would come a time when a treasurer for the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad would feel compelled to make a public complaint against the city’s paid fire department over funding is a sad commentary on the relationship that exists between the two groups and on the poor level of communication among the volunteers, the paid fire and rescue crews and the city’s administration.

The fact that Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad’s $50,000 funding crisis comes in the midst of the organization’s 50th anniversary is an unfortunate — but wholly avoidable — bit of coincidence.

The volunteer group that for a time provided the backbone of rescue services for an area stretching from Corapeake, N.C. to Ivor apparently finds itself in a position that never should have been allowed to develop. Halfway through the city’s budget year, the organization — which receives its money as a line item in the city’s fire and rescue spending plan — still awaits half of its annual budgeted funds and has had to borrow money to make ends meet.

It’s unclear if the rules about the annual funding request changed with or without the knowledge and clear understanding of the volunteer rescue squad. It’s unclear why a portion of the squad’s funds have been withheld this year. And it’s unclear just how much the organization will receive in total from city coffers by the end of the year.

What is clear, however is the dire situation in which the city of Suffolk would find itself without those volunteers. If Suffolk’s volunteer rescue squad quit running, city taxpayers would find their taxes increasing, and its citizens would face higher bills than they would otherwise every time they needed emergency transport. The volunteer organizations provide a service that would likely prove far more costly to replace than to support.

That service is far too important for Suffolk’s administration to leave working out the details of the funding problem to people who eventually could be accused of being less than objective about it. Suffolk leadership should step in and work to help the parties find common ground.