By Mary Smith
Weathersfield Township voters are being asked to approve a 2.5-mill continuous fire levy on the May 7 ballot that would generate $346,811 annually.
The Weathersfield Fire Department has been operating on 1986-level levy money and is struggling to operate with state funding cuts to the township’s budget, Fire Chief Randy Pugh said.
The levy, if passed, would generate $175,874 more than the three existing continuous levies it would replace, which generate an estimated $170,937 annually.
They are: a 0.7-mill levy first passed in 1993; a 1-mill levy first passed in 1984; and a 1 mill-levy originally passed in 1986.
The total effective rate for the levies is down from 2.7 mills to 1.13 mills. The levies and personal tangible property tax and utilities tax reimbursement, which go into the fire fund, generate an estimated $255,000 annually, township Administrator Dave Rouan said.
Next year, public utilities reimbursements will end, eliminating $15,000 in income for the department, and officials aren’t sure what will happen with reimbursements from personal tangible property tax.
The fire fund is expected to drop to $248,000, Rouan said.
A 1.75-mill, five-year levy to generate $225,000 for all departments was rejected by voters in November 2012.
Trustee Gil Blair said the township has lost more than $500,000 over the past five years due to reductions in local government funds, personal tangible property taxes and public-utilities tax reimbursements.
Trustees passed a 2013 budget of $2.926 million in February, planning to spend $1.244 million less than anticipated revenues of $4.171 million.
The budget number is based on uncertainty of what new cuts may come from the state in 2014 and 2015, which won’t be known until July.
Rouan said the fire department’s income was at about $340,000 in 2008 and has dropped by a combined figure through the years of $395,000 since 2009.
He noted that the department has taken on new housing developments in the township and industrial complexes.
He added that equipment replacement is a necessity. A new fire truck is in this year’s budget at a cost of $136,000 with a local match of $24,000. A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant of $112,000 will help pay for the truck.
Blair said the fire department “has done pretty well with getting grants and buying equipment.”
Pugh noted that each fire station’s Firefighter’s Association sponsors fund-raisers and have been able to purchase needed equipment and help pay for repairs.
All 40 township firefighters are volunteers who are paid $10.50 per call.
They also are required to have 120 hours of training over weekends to be state certified, and then must have 18 hours of continuous education a year. Also required is hazardous- material training.
None of the firefighters is paid for the training; the township pays for some of it and gets many courses at a reduced cost.
The township has 28 firefighters who are technicians in hazardous-material handling. Trustees in April approved a mutual agreement with Lordstown to work together on responding to such calls, which means a sharing of equipment, also another cost-saver for Weathersfield.
When state cuts originally came down, Pugh canceled the department’s answering of medical calls for six months, leaving the job to area ambulance companies. But firefighters came to him and said they would answer the calls for free. Department emergency medical technicians also answer the calls, also for free.
The department operates out of three fire stations, West Park Avenue, the only building owned by the township; Mineral Ridge Fire Station, which is owned by the Mineral Ridge Fire Association; and McKinley Heights fire station; owned by the McKinley Heights Mutual Benefits Association. The department has five-year lease agreements with the McKinley Heights and Mineral Ridge stations at $10,000 each, plus an added $6,200 for maintenance.
“You can’t get the bargain the people of Weathersfield get now,” Pugh said.