Pickerington Times-Sun

Violet Township fire levy

Chief: If issue fails personnel cuts possible

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The Violet Township Fire Department 3.8-mill fire levy on Tuesday's May 6 primary election ballot will determine whether the department will either forge ahead with systemwide infrastructure improvements and upgrades or simply maintain its current service capacity.

Violet Township Fire Chief John Eisel said his department can ill afford to only maintain its current funding.

In pleading his department's case, he said growth in the Pickerington/Violet Township service area shows the department cannot rest on its laurels.

The last time the fire department placed a funding issue on the ballot was 2002.

Since then, Eisel said the 42-square-mile service area has grown from a population of 26,000 to a little less than 40,000.

"We are projecting by 2020 that our run volumes will increase another 35 percent," Eisel said.

He said first quarter numbers for 2014 show a 19.8-percent increase in run volume over the same period in 2013.

"That's concerning in terms of our ability to deliver services," Eisel said.

The 3.8-mill fire property tax levy will cost an additional $133 per year for the owner of a $100,000 residence in Violet Township and would generate $3.7 million annually.

Eisel said Violet Fire's budget for 2013 was about $6.9 million a year and the proposed levy would increase that budget to roughly $10.5 million a year.

While cognizant the department is requesting a sizable increase to its budget, Eisel said the department needs the levy to keep pace with the area's growth.

"Our demand and our growth have increased dramatically, but our revenue hasn't," Eisel said.

He said the fire department is heavily reliant on property taxes, it has no other choice.

"I don't think a lot of people understand that property taxes are our primary funding source," Eisel said.

"We implemented (emergency medical services) revenue recovery to keep us off the ballot as long as we could, but that's been kind of a band-aid," he said.

Eisel said about 90 percent of the department's funding is through property tax millage and 8 percent is through EMS revenue recovery, in which the department is reimbursed by insurance companies or individuals for emergency services rendered.

The other 2 percent of the budget is achieved by whatever the department can garner either through grants or from the sale of used equipment, Eisel said.

He said even the grant process has "gotten super-competitive" and demand "is through the roof" for departments throughout the country seeking a smaller piece of the funding pie.

The fire department's strategic plan for the next five years outlines immediate and future needs.

The department is looking to expend about $6 million for facility upgrades including $3.3 million for the replacement of Station 591 on Lockville Road in downtown Pickerington, $1.2 to substantially overhaul Refugee Road Station 592, and $1.2 million for site acquisition of a future Station 594 in the growing southern corridor of Violet Township.

That strategic plan also calls for about $3.2 million to replace outdated vehicles and equipment.

"It's also really important to keep the operations and services we have in place now," Eisel said.

"In a growing and thriving community, the last thing we need to do is sustain cuts to personnel and services," he said.

He said if the levy doesn't pass, the department will be faced with personnel cuts.

"I don't think we would have a choice," Eisel said.

"Like any service organization, personnel are the bulk of our costs," he said.

What concerns Eisel the most is the expected growth in the area and his department's ability to keep pace with it.

"We really have to be poised and prepared to deal with this," he said.

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