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Township seeking paid firefighters, again
Updated on: 08.08.14

 

Washington Township Trustee Bryan Gabriel is once again trying to secure a tax increase to fund paid firefighters for the Brown County ( Nashville) Volunteer Fire Department.

Last fall, not advertising an advisory board meeting prevented the township from acquiring a $200,000 loan to cover costs of three or four full-timefirefighters for one year.

This year, he got an early start in order to ensure the loan process gets done properly.

The township advisory board - Stephanie Binkley-Gore, Gerald "Joe" Miller and Donna Lutes - will consider the proposal during a public meeting at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, at the township office, 2444 Old State Road 46 East.

If at least two of the advisory board members vote yes and the measure passes a review by the state, the Nashville Fire Department could havepaid firefighters in September or October.

In 2014, the board voted 2-1 in favor of the loan, with Binkley-Gore and Miller saying yes and Lutes voting no.

On Aug. 12, taxpayers will have a chance to comment and ask questions. Nashville Fire Chief Dallas "Dak" Kelp will explain his reasons for wanting to increase property taxes to have paid firefighters.

The proposal

The advisory board will vote on the additional appropriation of $54,000 for use during the last quarter of 2014 and the $200,000 loan to fund paid firefighters for 2015.

Gabriel said not all of the $54,000 will go toward paid firefighters, because the fire department operates at a deficit. Part of the money would pay for equipment repairs, he said.

Kelp said the $28,000 that Washington Township pays the department annually for fire protection, the $9,000 each year from the town of Nashville and fundraisers are not enough to cover operating expenses.

The plan is to have three or four paid firefighters to cover 12-hour shifts Monday through Friday. They would be supplemented by volunteers.

That plan depends on the town also increasing taxes on its property owners, who do not pay a fire tax.

Kelp said he is awaiting a report from the Nashville Town Council about the possibility of letting property owners decide through a referendum. Council members are researching the legalities of placing the topic on a ballot, he said.

If the town does agree to participate, the fire department could have a chief making $45,000 a year, the senior firefighter earning $38,780 and a firefighter making $35,364.

If the proposal is approved, the estimated cost to taxpayers is an additional $78 a year for a property with an assessed value of $100,000. At $200,000, the additional cost would be approximately $156. A $300,000 property would pay $234 annually for fire protection.

Gabriel noted that after the loan is paid off through the property tax increase, taxes could drop slightly. However, the tax hike would remain in place for as long as Nashville fire department had paid firefighters.

Ten or more taxpayers in the township can file a petition with the auditor stating objection, which would force the matter to a public hearing before the Department of Local Government Finance.

Gabriel pointed out he is not running for re-election. The people vying for that spot this fall are Melissa Stinson on the Democratic ticket and Michael Magner on the Republican ballot. Their position on the topic could factor into the future of paid firefighters.

Reasons for going paid

The goal for having paid firefighters is to improve fire protection in Washington Township.

Kelp said there has been more demand for the fire department in recent years. During the past three years, the department made at least 500 emergency runs a year. They are on pace to do the same this year.

As a result of all the responses, the department operates at a loss.

Another factor Kelp cites to justify paid firefighters is the declining number of volunteers. That's due in large part to the demanding nature of the job, which pays no money, requires several hours of training and calls for 24/7 availability.

Kelp said paid firefighters would improve response times by from four to 15 minutes. They would also alleviate pressure on volunteers, provide better maintenance on equipment and improve record keeping necessary to drop the ISO rating, or fire protection rating that affects home and business insurance rates.

"Our volunteers do a really great job with what they're given. I think if they had additional resources we could definitely get a better rating," Gabriel said.

A better rating could reduce premiums in the township. The money saved could offset the increase in taxes, but there are no guarantees.

"It's one of those things we won't know until we do it," Gabriel said. "There is a potential for a net savings overall. There is also a potential that it may not go down."

Kelp said he understood that raising taxes is an unpopular notion. He doesn't see any other way to reverse the trend of a fire department suffering from overburdened volunteers.

He said aging equipment and falling behind on required reports could cause a drop in the ISO rating. That would likely cause an increase in insurance premiums.

"One way or another, you're going to pay more," Kelp said.

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