City looks to place levy on May ballot for fire/EMS only

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(Posted Dec. 27, 2022)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

London city council is considering placing a levy request on the May 2 ballot for a 0.25 percent increase in the city income tax to provide additional funding for the fire and EMS department. This would mark the city’s third attempt in a year to pass a levy for additional fire/EMS funding.

The first attempt came in May 2022 when the city requested a 0.5 percent income tax increase for additional funding for fire/EMS and to build new police facilities and a new community center. The second attempt came in November 2022 when the city requested a 0.4 percent income tax increase (0.25 percent for fire/EMS and 0.15 percent for police facilities). Both levy requests failed.

For the May 2023 primary election, the city’s finance committee has recommended focusing solely on fire/EMS. On Dec. 15, city council held first readings on legislation to place a 0.25 percent income tax increase on the ballot. The deadline to file a levy request with the Madison County Board of Elections for the May 2 ballot is Feb. 1.

“The fire department, we know, is going to be short on funds. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” said council member Greg Eades, sponsor of the new levy legislation. “I’m happy to sponsor this because I don’t want to see the fire department not able to operate.”

The estimated expenses for fire/EMS in 2023 are $3.7 million, however, without additional funding, the department’s revenues will fall short by an estimated $800,000.

Currently, the city’s income tax stands at 1.5 percent. Of that, 0.5 percent is earmarked for fire/EMS. The 0.5 percent generates approximately $2.4 million per year and is the primary source of funding for fire/EMS. The department also brings in roughly $500,000 per year from billing to insurance companies for patient transports.

The department operated in a deficit in 2022. To help cover the shortfall, the city used $900,000 it received in American Rescue Plan (ARP) money to help cover fire/EMS expenses. ARP funds are federal COVID relief funds. The city does not anticipate receiving such funding in 2023, said Rex Castle, London’s safety service director.

If passed, the 0.25 percent income tax increase would generate an estimated $1.2 million per year in additional funding for fire/EMS. The additional funding would cover the deficit, set up the department to cover increasing expenses for equipment and maintenance, cover contracted salary increases, and allow the department to keep up with the needs of a growing population, Castle said.

“It should keep that fund pretty stable. We just have to stop the bleeding,” he said.

If the 0.25 percent income tax increase does not pass in May, “There would have to be budget reductions,” Mayor Patrick Closser said.

City council plans to hold two more readings before voting on the legislation to put the 0.25 percent income tax levy on the ballot. Those readings are scheduled to take place at council’s Jan. 5 and Jan. 19 meetings, both set for 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

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