The fate of Columbus' proposed income tax hike could affect fire service in Bexley, city leaders say.

The fate of Columbus' proposed income tax hike could affect fire service in Bexley, city leaders say.

Columbus residents will vote Aug. 4 on whether to raise the city's income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.5 percent. People who work in Columbus would pay an extra $50 for every $10,000 in annual income. They currently pay $200 for every $10,000 earned.

At a recent Bexley City Council meeting, city leaders discussed news reports that firefighters could be laid off and as many as seven fire stations could be closed if the ballot measure fails. Council member Jed Morison and service director Bill Harvey said it was their understanding that Bexley receives service from four Columbus fire stations that would face closure.

"We can't vote on the income tax, but it certainly is something that will impact us one way or another," Morison said.

Columbus fire battalion chief and public information officer David Whiting told ThisWeek that if the income tax increase fails, the fire department will have to make up a $19-million budget shortfall and lay off 238 firefighters. The department already has factored in 25 retirements for this year and 25 next year, he said.

By reducing the staff, the fire department would need to close seven fire stations, Whiting said.

"We would lose that many people, we wouldn't be able to keep those stations open," he said. "We have not targeted or identified any stations. There is a lot of speculation out there."

Morison said if Columbus is forced to lay off more than 200 firefighters or close fire stations, the response times will not be as fast for emergency calls or fires.

Mayor John Brennan said he had some concerns about the fire service that Bexley receives from Columbus. He said Bexley's current contract with Columbus does not include a provision to reopen the contract. The contract is a five-year contract while previous contracts were three-year contracts, he said.

Council member Robyn Jones said the city's financial task force has looked at the issue as well. Brennan formed the task force in November to help the city balance its budget and avoid deficit spending.

Morison said if the income tax initiative fails, there will need to be discussions on Bexley's fire service with Columbus.