Hoping residents will understand that the township is facing increasing costs and declining revenues, trustees kicked around the idea of asking for a tax levy, somewhere between 1 and 3 mills, to bring in much-needed money for emergency services and roads.
During a meeting Monday, Fire Chief Keith Barrett told trustees the ambulance service - halfway through the fiscal year - is a little more than $32,000 in the hole and maintenance costs for the fire department will soon push that budget into the red as well.
Barrett asked trustees to consider a 1.5-mill levy for the November ballot to allow for continued ambulance and fire services. He said the department has already begun austerity measures, including cutting work hours, postponing scheduled maintenance, even doing away with a phone line, but finances have reached the point where even the simplest of equipment problems threatens the ability to provide emergency services.
Last week, he said, the front end of one of the department’s three ambulances fell off after a tie rod broke. “We are putting off maintenance because there just isn’t money. What am I going to do?” he asked trustees.
Trustee Phil Schmidt said he wouldn’t be in favor of any levy that didn’t include money for police and roads as well. “We need a general fund levy to help everybody. People are just going to have to understand that the trustees are mandated to take care of the roads too. We can do away with the fire and ambulance and the state won’t say a word about it, but we have to take care of the roads. Roads and cemeteries, that’s what we’re mandated to do.”
“Things have changed. Residents are going to have accept that. It’s not just us, look at how many cities are going bankrupt. We’re down 1,000 people from 10 years ago, the value of the dollar is down and the problem is everyone is hurting for money,” Schmidt said.
He thinks the township should ask for a 3-mill increase and “continue to tighten our belts.” A mill brings in about $125,000.
The last fire levy was 10 years ago, Barrett said. A levy for roads failed in March of this year and Barrett said he thinks a general fund levy will never pass. “They see the words ‘general fund’ and that wipes it out.”
Barrett said he is confident that based on the fire department’s reputation that residents would pass a levy for emergency services. To lump it in with a general fund levy, he said, is “punishing the fire department.”
Schmidt also said he thinks the union firefighters’ contract, which calls for a raise next year, is something that may need to be renegotiated. “If we pass a levy for the fire department then they’re going to think we have money. And we don’t.”
Barrett said there are six full-time employees, including himself. The average salary is about $36,000 and of that, they have to pay three percent of their health insurance premium costs.
Trustee Chairman Gary Lees said the township also pays a pension for firefighters, which is something, he said, that isn’t that common anymore, along with longevity pay and uniform allowances. He discussed methods that other Ohio townships - like Weathersfield and Champion - are using to bolster their emergency services, including changes to billing services. He said he didn’t want to see any levy money being used for salaries.
Currently, Barrett said, the department accepts as payment in full the amount that insurance pays toward ambulance calls but only for residents. For non-residents, the department bills them for the difference. Lees suggested that the township bill everyone for the full cost. He continued to press Barrett for an explanation about why the ambulance service isn’t self-sustaining.
“I’m paying $3.68 a gallon for gas; health insurance is going up 28 percent, Medicare and Medicaid payments are set by the federal government. I’m not spending money on anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. We are so far behind on maintenance it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Trustee Ron Haun said he would prefer the fire, police and road departments all be considered together in any request for a levy. “Aren’t we a team?”
No vote was taken, but the deadline for putting a levy on the ballot is Aug, 2, Barrett said.
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