Twp. fire levy would cover added expense

By David J. Coehrs -

As with everything else, the cost of keeping citizens in Clinton Township and beyond safe has increased. So the township will place an additional fire and emergency services levy on the ballot this November.

The proposed five-year, 1.54-mill levy is necessary to maintain what Clinton Township Trustee Ivan Hite calls “the great history of our fire department.” It would generate $293,584 annually for the upkeep and, when necessary, purchase, of equipment, and for the expense of hiring personnel to cover a decline in volunteer firefighters.

The additional levy would complement the township’s current five-year fire and emergency levies of 0.8 mills, collecting $138,185 annually, and 0.3 mills, collecting $50,646 annually. Both were passed by voters in 2015 and remain active through 2020.

The Wauseon Fire Department would collect 60% of the additional levy’s revenue due to increases in hiring and the price of training. The revenue split between the city and the township reflects changes in the operation of fire departments nationwide.

“Volunteerism is down, and the responsibility of the fire department is still there,” Hite said. “They have to hire more people to take care of the constituents. And there’s so much more schooling involved, and there’s so much more put on the person who decides to be a dedicated fire person.”

Traditionally, the city fire department concentrates on its personnel and their training, while the township maintains the fire equipment – some as old as 20 years – and makes any necessary purchases.

“It’s the way we chose to set it up. It seemed to be better for the township and for Wauseon. It can be changed as the needs of the community changes,” Hite said.

He said fire operations have changed over the past two decades due to the dwindling number of volunteers. “The whole climate of our society has changed in how they deal with volunteerism,” he said.

Hite said with a decrease in volunteer firefighters the Wauseon fire station must hire more staff in order to maintain fast response times to calls, adding, “It’s an ongoing need, and we never know when they’re going to have to be called out.”

The additional levy would also address the cost of updating equipment, which has likely tripled in price due to advancing technology. A single fire engine can cost between $550,000 and $600,000. A ladder truck goes for $1 million.

“One piece of equipment can now take the place of three pieces of equipment. It can multi-task,” Hite said. “One vehicle can do many things. But you still need a variety of equipment.”

He said the aging equipment currently being used is functioning and well-maintained but must be inspected every year. In addition, state regulations are becoming stricter for safety purposes.

Wauseon Fire Chief Rick Sluder said the contracts the department originally struck with the townships it serves were based on volunteer labor paid on an call-by-call basis. “Volunteerism has decreased nationwide, and continues to decline, which has forced area fire departments to put paid staff on,” he said.

Currently, Wauseon’s fire department dips into the city’s general fund for its labor costs. Sluder said the additional fire levy would offset that source.

He said the fire levy would require all county townships using Wauseon fire services to pay an equal amount. Chesterfield, Pike, and York townships currently pay less than Clinton and Dover townships.

“There’s been no negative feedback from those other townships. They’ve been real receptive. It’s been a positive relationship,” Sluder said.

In comparison to fire services in other Ohio communities, which can command upwards of 11-12 mills to operate, “our county’s been pretty conservative on this,” the fire chief said. “You’re still at a really good value at the service you get from everybody.”

Hite said community members have always been willing to support local fire services.

“The constituents still like these services, and unfortunately, when these services are still needed we need to raise taxes to keep the quality up,” he said.

Franklin Township will place a proposed five-year 1.1-mill fire levy on the November ballot that would generate $39,441 annually. Township Trustee Jack Rupp said the trustees have agreed to decline comment on the proposed levy.

Franklin Township passed a fire levy in 2007 that was renewed in 2012 and expired in 2017. According to the Fulton County Board of Elections, the township currently has no active fire levy.

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.