A Tuesday, Jan. 18 deadline is looming between Columbia County and the city of Harlem over operation of a new fire station near the city.
Both sides have backed themselves into corners over issues of legal liability for the Clary Cut Road station, which would be operated by the city's fire department under contract with the county, with it all financed by the county's fire tax.
So the county has set the deadline, and is rejecting alterations to the contract. The city is offering to sign up, but only with specific changes. If it's not all wrapped up by Tuesday -- which looks unlikely -- the county could turn the station over to someone else to operate, sparking what could be a nasty turf fight.
But as the end looms, here's an idea both sides should consider:
Ditch the deadline.
Let's face it. The area has been protected for years without a station on the site. The new station, which one day will have a better, permanent building, is nice. But it's not so essential that it absolutely must be opened up and staffed by Tuesday.
County officials set the arbitrary deadline to try to force the city to reach a decision. But there's a fine line between urging negotiation and outright bullying. When it's the bigger entity setting the deadline, it can look an awful lot like the 800-pound gorilla is challenging the kid next door to a shoving match. It's hardly a fair fight.
Both sides should turn on a hydrant and hose themselves down. It's time for a cooling-off period before this needless deadline forces a bad decision.
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