By Elise Franco
The township fire department is asking for residents’ support for three replacement fire levies that will keep the department running at its current level.
When voters visit the polls on Nov. 6 they will see a 1.0-mill levy, originally approved in 1985, to raise $602,798 annually; a 1.2-mill levy, originally approved in 1976, to raise $723,359 annually; and a 1.5-mill levy, originally approved in 1992, to raise $904,326 annually.
Each of these levies is for five years.
The levies are currently generating $1,125,386 for the fire department and if they’re approved, would generate an additional $1,105,097, said Mike Dockry, township administrator.
Dockry said this will bring the levies up to their current real-estate tax valuation, giving the department a total of $2,230,483 annually.
If all three are approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay a total of about $114 annually, the administrator explained.
He said those residents now pay about $58 per year, and the three replacements would cost an additional $56.
“Through contract concessions and not fixing things that need fixed we’ve been able to survive,” Fire Chief Andy Frost III said.
“We’re finally to the point where we can’t survive anymore.”
He said the department’s current labor contract, which began in 2011, implemented wage freezes through 2014, cut overtime and included employees paying 18 percent of health care premiums, as well as 50 percent of any annual increase from insurance companies.
The department has also earned about $2 million in state and federal grants since 2005, allowing for the purchase of three firetrucks and updated equipment — something Frost said wouldn’t have been otherwise possible.
The department has lost $150,000 in state funding each year since 2008 and will continue to do so, Frost said.
Its budget has decreased from $3.2 million in 2008 to $2.6 million in 2012.
Frost and Dockry both said if the levies fail the township may have to begin layoff discussions.
“It’s a last resort, but we’re getting pretty close,” the chief said. “With 93 percent of the budget going toward salaries there’s nowhere else to cut.”
In Austintown, a firefighter’s average hourly rate is $17.98. New hires start at $9.08 per hour.
Dockry said new firefighters enter the job at 70 percent of their full pay and will reach their full pay amount after seven years. He said these step increases are separate from wage increases.
“The contract calls for a basic annual rate for a firefighter, and it takes them seven years to reach that rate,” he said. “Under the old contract, they would reach that rate after one year.”