West Side News

Fire levy won't last if economic downturn continues

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Prairie Township officials said last week a fire levy approved by residents two years ago won't last the promised eight to 10 years if the current economic climate continues.

Township trustees and Fire Chief Steve Feustel said at the Oct. 3 trustees' meeting they will have to work together to come up with some creative solutions for saving money in the fire department.

The topic came up after Feustel requested the board to approve hiring four part-time firefighters and one full-time firefighter. None of the positions are new, but need to be filled, he said.

Hiring part-time firefighters is cost-effective for the department, with each earning between $8 to $10 per hour, he said. Feustel said some of the part-timers put in anywhere from 24 to 70 hours in a two-week time frame.

Mitch Klosterman , a firefighter and EMT from Thurston-Walnut Township, was hired full-time and will earn a probationary salary of $44,629.47 annually, Feustel said.

Trustee Steve Kennedy said he had no issues with voting for the new hires; however, he said the board has a commitment to residents when it comes to making the fire levy last as long as possible.

"We want the levy to last between eight and 10 years," Kennedy said. "Home valuations are down. In my book, we need to start working together to make it last until 2018."

The 9.4-mill levy approved in 2010 was expected to allow the fire department to remain financially solvent for many years. The levy cost homeowners an additional $113.37 annually for each $100,000 of property value.

In addition to funding operations, money generated by the levy was to enable the department to make future purchases of a new fire engine and two new medic vehicles. Feustel said he is not so sure of this any more.

"I'm sorry, but it's impossible under the current conditions that the levy will last that long," he said.

With home valuations in decline, Feustel said he is looking at a $300,000 a year hit to his budget annually. In four years, that is $1 million that the department doesn't have, he said.

"If the economy recovers, we'll be OK," he said. "It is something we are very much concerned with. I could lay off two firefighters on each shift and we would still be losing money."

Feustel and the board of trustees agreed to work on creative ideas and concepts to keep the levy alive as long as possible.

In other business, trustees unanimously approved hiring Keith Farrell to fill a new, part-time job as senior center assistant. Farrell will begin a six-month probationary period at a starting pay rate of $10 per hour, working about 21 hours a week.

The board also voted 2-1 to purchase software for the zoning department. The "up-front costs" of $14,900 includes installation, conversion of existing database and on-site training. In addition, the township has to pay an annual cost for support and upgrades of $1,495.

Kennedy said he voted against the purchase because he felt uncomfortable with the annual cost. Township staff members said the new software will enable the department to become more efficient.

The next trustees' meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at 23 Maple Drive.

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