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News-Miner Editorial

Save the Emergency Service Patrol: The city says it can’t afford, but we can’t afford to lose it

News-Miner opinion: It seems budget troubles, and the impacts of them, aren’t just limited to the state government these days. The city of Fairbanks is in a pinch, and the latest indication of that is a plea from the city government for help in funding the Emergency Service Patrol, formerly known as the Community Service Patrol.

The city, according to a recent notice signed by Mayor Jim Matherly, can’t afford to keep supporting the service, which transports public inebriates in the wider downtown area to a safe place, where these people can sober up.

The program is important to the environment of downtown. It has, since its inception many years ago, improved the area not only for our summer visitors but also for anyone who happens to be in the area.

No one wants to be accosted by a drunken person. No one wants to be out for a nice walk and come across a drunken person on the path.

Prior to the start of the program, removing these public inebriates was a task for the Fairbanks Police Department and the Fairbanks Fire Department. Too much time was spent on this, however; police officers had plenty other things to be tending to.

So here we are now, with the city government saying it can no longer support the program by itself. In a plea for funds, the city sent a letter to hundreds of businesses at the end of August asking for contributions.

“Unfortunately, the city of Fairbanks has seen declining financial assistance from the state of Alaska and we expect that decline to continue,” the letter to businesses reads. “With the decline in funding, we are looking for help in order to continue this invaluable program, as we feel that it would be detrimental to our public safety departments, local businesses, residents, and visitors if the program were to end. Please consider providing assistance with this serious issue.

The letter asks businesses to donate to the program through the Downtown Association of Fairbanks.

This situation isn’t all the state’s fault, however. The City Council twice this year rejected solutions for the city’s financial pinch.

So now we have an actual consequence.

What to do about it? Getting more money from the state government is unlikely — for now.

So that means applying for grants, but that’s an uncertain process and is generally for a short duration.

What the ESP program needs is sustained funding. Asking businesses to help pay for the program is fine, but, as with grants, it’s not a steady and sustainable way to go unless there’s some structured — and, frankly, mandatory and fair — way to have them pay.

One structured way that should be considered is to have a general seasonal sales tax, which would obtain revenue from visitors to the city as well as locals. The city currently levies a tax on the sale of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana and also on lodging; it doesn’t have a general sales tax.

Surely there are other ideas, too.

The future of the Emergency Services Patrol should be an issue of concern for the candidates for Fairbanks mayor and Fairbanks City Council as well as for those city leaders who aren’t up for election this year.

Let’s hear some plans and do something. The ESP program can’t be allowed to end.

The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

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The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

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