2008-08-09 / News

Licking Township considering levy for 24/7 fire coverage

By Charles Prince

JACKSONTOWN - Licking Township Trustees are expected to take the first step next Monday night to put an additional six mill permanent tax levy for EMS/fire protection on the November ballot.

Two weeks ago Licking Township Fire Company Chief Mike Wilson presented a detailed written proposal to trustees outlining his proposal for around-the-clock, on-station staffing. Trustees and Wilson spent about two hours discussing it Monday night.

Currently, Licking Township has a full-time chief on duty from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. He is joined by a part-time paid EMT/paramedic during those hours. Two part-time paid EMT/ paramedics are duty from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday nights. Volunteers back up the paid staff during their on-duty hours and provide total coverage the rest of the time.

Licking Township also has two contracts to provide services to two adjacent townships. Franklin Township pays $19,000 a year to Licking Township and pays all operating expenses at Station 2 in Franklin Township. The township also pays for two part-time EMT/paramedics from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Though stationed at the Franklin Township station, they do respond to calls in Licking Township. Franklin Township also has contracts with the City of Health and National Trails Fire Department to provide EMS/fire protection, but Licking Township covers most of the township.

Bowling Green Township pays Licking Township about $25,000 a year to cover about a third of the township. Licking Township currently has two one-mill fire levies that generate $219,000 a year. Thanks to growth in the township and escalating property values, those levies are currently being collected at .89 mill and .90 mill respectively. That is the second lowest millage in Licking County. Total annual revenue is about $264,000 including the two contracts.

Monday night, Wilson said the company set a new run record in July with a total of 105 runs - 87 EMS and 18 fire. The previous record of 102 runs was set in February. "We're pushing volunteers and the part-time paid program to the limit," he told trustees. The department made 941 runs in 2007 with paid staff making 502 and volunteers handling 439. The total in 2006 was 877 with paid staff doing 471 runs and volunteers making 406.

Wilson said concerns are response time when paid staff isn't on duty and second calls when a crew is already on a run. In 2007, the average response time, from the signal from the 9-1-1 center to the truck leaving the station, was 4.64 minutes for volunteers and 1.54 minutes for paid staff. The average on-scene time in 2007 was 9.82 minutes with volunteers and 7.15 minutes with paid staff.

Wilson said and trustees agreed that the fire company has come a long way since it was formed in 1995 with $47,500. The weekday 8-4 staffing started in 2002 and the Sunday through Thursday 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. coverage began in 2005. Wilson said the department has aggressively sought grants and has received $466,000 in state and federal grants.

Wilson agreed that there is no good time to ask property owners for more taxes. A six mill levy will cost the owner living in a home valued at $100,000 an additional $184 a year.

"We need to prepare for the future," Wilson said. "We have to prepare residents for where we're going." He proposes to retain the two one-mill levies that go before voters every five years for operating expenses and capital expenditures like new equipment.

Trustees, particularly Trustee President Joe Hart, had quite a few questions for Wilson. He called it "probably the most significant decision I'll make" as a trustee.

Hart asked if a fire district had been considered. Wilson said a district could reduce administrative costs. "You can't get rid of squads or fire trucks," he said. Wilson noted that Licking County's only fire district (West Licking) assesses property owners 11.5 mills.

Wilson plans to have three four-person crews each working a 24 hours shift then off for 48 hours. All would be stationed at Jacksontown. If voters approve the additional taxes, Wilson will ask Bowling Green and Franklin townships to pay more for the improved service.

Wilson said the company would still depend on volunteers for major incidents. He acknowledged that paid departments generally lose volunteers. "We keep them very happy," Wilson said.

Trustee Dave Miller asked about EMS billing. Newark, Heath and Hebron are now billing for EMS runs. Wilson questioned whether the current practice of "soft" billing, where unpaid bills are just dropped rather than referred to a collection agency is legal. "I don't want to hard bill my citizens," he added. He's also concerned that the practice could make it more difficult to pass levies since residents figure they will be billed if they need the services.

He urged trustees to let the community decide what kind of fire department they want.

Trustees agreed to start the required three-step process by setting a special meeting for 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 11 at the Ohio 13 fire station. All three steps must be completed by Aug. 21.

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