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Fire levies assessed for November ballot
Fire levies assessed for November ballot
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Three communities began the task last week of assessing costs for providing fire and rescue services to their residents.
Representatives of the City of Chardon and Chardon and Claridon townships met with Chardon Fire Chief Larry Gaspar and Assistant Chief Thomas Hummel to discuss the department's budget and future needs.
The purpose was to determine what amount each community will have to ask voters for in November. The city now relies on a 4-mill levy, while the townships each have 2-mill levies.
The parties plan to meet again in May to begin calculating what millage will be sought.
Claridon Township Trustee David Brockway and Chardon Township Trustee Michael Brown represented their communties. The city was represented by City Manager David Lelko, Finance Director Jeffrey Smock and council members Jefferey Campbell Jr., Deborah Reiter and Mary Bramstedt.
Mr. Brown said it is likely that Chardon Township will have to ask voters for increased millage, because the levy has not been covering the full cost of fire and rescue services. The township has had to tap its general fund to fulfill its obligations, he said.
Mr. Brockway said he's not sure what would be needed at this point for adequate millage in November.
Mr. Smock said he had no opportunity to review the numbers, having just been presented with them, and could not say what would be needed. He said he hopes the city could go to voters for the same millage.
Mr. Gaspar opened the discussion, providing officials with an idea of the large apparatus that the department will be looking to replace in the coming years.
He said the first item needed is a new tanker. He said an engine tanker, which cost $200,000 in 1988, would be replaced with a tanker that costs $200,000 to $250,000. He said the department is downsizing the tanker. To replace the existing truck with an exact duplicate would cost the department between $500,000 and $600,000.
He said the smaller tanker truck would be more beneficial to the townships, which do not, like the city, have a central source of water. He said the city would benefit because the tanker would provide the pump capacity needed to maintain proper pressure in fighting fires.
Following that acquisition, he said, the department is looking to replace a rescue squad in 2013 and an engine in 2014 or 2015.
Fuel for those vehicles, however, has been the most volatile of the numbers for the department to predict. He said the overall average from 2001 to 2008 showed a 13 percent increase. However, from 2007 to 2008, the department saw a 25 percent rise in fuel costs.
Mr. Gaspar said the department was hoping to realize savings by switching the way it purchases fuel. He said the department had been relying on a private company, but would now buy it from the city, which purchases in bulk.
Mr. Hummel said the department has seen a 7 percent increase in the number of calls handled each year, which accounts for a small portion of the increased fuel costs.
Mr. Gaspar said the department also plans to add a third part-time firefighter for a night shift in 2010. Although the department could use six persons for day shift and six for the night shift, he said, the department was attempting to control its costs, particularly at this time with the economic downturn.
Over the last two years, Mr. Gaspar said, the department has seen its busier times with mostly rescue calls during the day shift. However, he said, most fire have occurred during the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. time slot, when the night shift is on.
The department relies on mutual aid from Hambden, Munson, Kirtland and Burton when more personnel are required for more serious calls.
In addition to higher costs for fuel, he said, the department also is experiencing a substantial rise in health-care costs. He said insurance representatives have told him to expect a 20 percent to 40 percent rise in cost each of the succeeding years.
Mr. Smock said the city saw a 20 percent jump in its costs last year.
Mr. Brown said the township was faced with a 52 percent increase, but was able to reduce its costs by switching to a health-reimbursement account.
Mr. Gaspar said the department also has been able to reduce its workers' compensation costs by joining with a consortium of emergency medical system workers. He said the rate now is 7.5 percent of its payroll. Without the consortium, he said, the department would be paying 20 percent.
Mr. Gaspar said the department has made every effort to reduce costs and save taxpayers. "We want to make a good faith effort to keep our costs down," he said.
Mr. Campbell credited the fire department with being frugal with its money. "You are definitely trying to watch your money," he said.
Mr. Hummel said the department takes pride in providing good service to the community. The 132-year-old department started as a small-town department that knew whose home or business was in danger. While that personal connection may have been lost because of the tremendous growth in the area, he said, its firefighters are still members of the community and feel a responsibility to everyone. "We're still taking care of our own," he said.
Mr. Smock said the city's return on ambulance billing has been "very predictable" with revenues coming between $125,000 and $140,000 each year.
Mr. Brown said the opposite has been true for the township. He said projections made in 2004 have fallen $50,000 short of those projections.
He said the township is considering increasing its millage for the upcoming levy. Because of that increase and the current economic situation, he said, the township also may have to go with a shorter term, such as three years, rather than the traditional five years, in hopes of winning over voters.
Mr. Brown said a levy try for 3.5 mills last November may have failed because the township attempted a new approach with a continuing levy. He said the continuing aspect might have been its downfall.
Each community's share of the department's costs is determined on property values and the number of calls. Currently, the city pays 55.48 percent, Chardon Township pays 31.41 percent and Claridon 13.11 percent. Claridon's portion is for about half the township and the remaining half is covered by the Burton Fire Department.
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