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New Walnut Township fire levy OKed

MILLERSPORT – Walnut Township voters approved a new permanent three-mill levy for fire protection and emergency medical services by a close 370 – 337 vote Tuesday. Just over 15 percent of the voters cast a ballot. The new levy will bring in $650,000 a year, split 65 percent to the Millersport Fire Department and 35 percent to the Thurston-Walnut Township Fire Department. It’s the first fire levy increase since 2008.

Walnut Township Trustees’ Chair Doug Leith said, “We are extremely happy that residents have seen the wisdom of the things we haven’t been able to do.” He noted that the township’s two fire departments – Millersport Fire Department and Thurston- Walnut Township Fire Department – were at the bottom of the pay scale in the county for parttime firefighters and EMT’s. That disparity coupled with the provision in state law that townships can not pay a part-time firefighter/ medic for more 1,500 hours in a year left some shifts short-handed at the Fairfield Beach and Thurston fire stations last fall. “We will be able to fill all our shift requirements,” Leith added.

Trustees initially considered a 2.5 to 2.75 mill levy last December, but decided to seek three mills in January after Millersport Assistant Fire Chief Rob Robinson told them it wouldn’t provide enough money.

Millersport Fire Chief Bob Price wants to increase the current part-time pay rates of $10 an hour for firefighters and $12 an hour for medics, and increase staffing to three per station 24/7. The Millersport station currently has three on station from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and then two from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Fairfield Beach has two on station 24/7.

Thurston Fire Chief Jim Hite wants to increase pay rates, in increments, from the current $9 per hour for firefighters to $11 and from the current $11 per hour for medics to $13. Thurston is already staffing three part-timers 24/7.

Three-person on-station staffing is particularly important on fire runs. While a two-person crew can start putting water on a fire, national fire safety standards require that three firefighters be present before entering a burning structure unless it is known that someone is trapped in the structure.

Leith praised both fire chiefs for aggressively seeking grants. “But grants don’t cover everything,” he explained. Over the next two years, the new levy will allow Thurston to replace a 10-year old medic with 68,000 miles and a 14-year old fire engine with 43,236 miles. Millersport’s equipment is newer, but the department needs a new water rescue boat once the dam project is finished. The department just renewed a lease with ODNR for two more years for an 18-foot Rock Proof inboard jet boat that is designed for extreme shallow water operation.

Leith also commented on the narrow victory. “It proves that every vote counts.”

With the levy approval, the Village of Thurston plans to drop its 2.5 mill fire levy which brings about $12,500. Village residents also pay all three township fire levies.

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