Hein: Fire levy not about increasing staff or salaries
Truro Township Fire Chief Steve Hein said he hopes Reynoldsburg residents understand that Issue 46, the 3.9-mill fire department operating levy on the Nov. 6 ballot, is to continue current emergency services for the next six to eight years and to staff a full-time paramedic ambulance on the west side of Reynoldsburg.
The levy is "not about increasing staff levels or about increasing the income of Truro's firefighter/paramedics," he said.
"I think it is more about the loss of local government funding," he said. "This is our biggest challenge. We do not intend to increase personnel at this time. We need the levy funds to maintain current services and make sure we have a medic ambulance and a fire engine at both firehouses."
If approved by voters, the 3.9-mill operating levy would cost an additional $119 per year in taxes per $100,000 in property value and generate $1.8 million per year for the Division of Fire, according to Administrative Battalion Chief Jeff Sharps.
Sharps sent a flier to Reynoldsburg residents two weeks ago, giving facts about the fire department.
He said the department has 45 full-time firefighters and paramedics.
"A starting full-time Truro firefighter makes $13.43 per hour and a 25-year veteran tops out at $21.46 per hour," Sharps wrote in the flier. "Ninety-seven percent of Truro Township firefighters are also paramedics and are paid an additional average of 87 cents per hour. These wages are on the low end of the median for Ohio firefighter wages as reported by the U. S. Department of Labor."
He said the firefighters are not covered by a labor contract, but work closely with the administration to build a balanced budget.
Sharps said wage increases are not guaranteed for the firefighters, nor are cost-of-living adjustments.
"Truro Township firefighters receive modest increases based on the availability of funds, obtaining additional certifications and/or earning a promotion," Sharps wrote.
Sharps stated in the flier that without the passage of Issue 46, there could be "a possible fire station closure due to inadequate staffing" and a possible increase in response times.
Hein said the last time the fire department asked for additional millage was in 2002.
The Truro Township Fire Department responded to 3,781 incidents in 2002, while in 2011, the number totaled 6,149 runs, an increase of 62 percent, he said.
Hein said 82 percent of the 6,000 runs were for medical emergencies.
Hein said the state's elimination of tangible personal property taxes, added to last year's cuts in Local Government Fund allocations, resulted in a loss of more than $1 million in annual revenue to the fire department.
He said his department took steps last year when funds began to dwindle, including instituting a pay freeze for staff members in 2013.
"We increased our employee share of health care premiums and chose not to fill some vacancies, so are currently down one full-time staff member," he said. "We also suspended our part-time firefighter program, but hopefully, if the levy passes, we can bring those folks on again.
"Obviously, without the passage of the levy, the loss of funds will affect everyone in the department, but also our ability to staff fire stations and our emergency response times," he said.
Sharps has posted information about the levy request at trurotwp.org/levy-2012.html.
The department will hold an open house at Fire Station 162, 6305 E. Livingston Ave., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14. Hein said visitors will be able to tour the firehouse and watch a medical helicopter land and possibly a see a demonstration of an emergency extraction from a vehicle.