FARGO — An initiative to thank and recognize volunteer first responders has found itself on the ballot for the fast-approaching November election.
Ballot Measure 4, which requires personalized license plates be provided to volunteer emergency responders — firefighters and emergency medical service volunteers — free of charge, while also allowing free entrance by the volunteers to any state park. The first three digits of the plate would be the last three digits of the zip code where the volunteer’s department is located. The plate’s last three characters would be chosen by the volunteer.
Retired farmer and Max resident Norval Semchenko says he hopes this ballot measure will show the volunteers how important their service is to North Dakota residents.
“I found it’s a certain type of person that does these things without the expectation of being financially compensated,” Semchenko says. “Without them we would be in bad shape.”
With overwhelming support of this initiative — over 15,000 petition signatures were collected, more than 2,000 more than the 13,452 needed to place the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot — Semchenko says he was hard pressed to find someone who didn’t think this was a good idea.
“When we were collecting signatures, that was when we were exposed to the most people, there was just a very small handful of people (who opposed it),” he says. “The negative statements had to do with other subjects, like we need to do this for our veterans.”
According to the N.D. Department of Transportation, the fiscal impact of the statutory measure would be an estimated cost of $3.5 million every two years. A highway tax distribution fund will lose almost $13.9 million over a decade. The 13 state parks in N.D. would also suffer a loss in park revenues of almost $3.9 million. However, as Semchenko says, these losses are small compared to the cost of paying these volunteers.
“Imagine if we had to pay these people to do what they do,” Semchenko says. “To me, being on call 24/7 and being called up at three in the morning in not so very nice weather to help someone they don’t even know, that’s a special person that does that.”