(Posted June 29, 2021)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
With more calls coming in for service, the Tri-County Joint Fire District needs more personnel and the money to pay them. To generate funds, the district plans to ask for replacement rather than renewal of its 2.5-mill operating levy.
The district covers 118 square miles and encompasses the village of Mount Sterling, Pleasant Township in Madison County, Darby Township in Pickaway County, and parts of Monroe Township in Pickaway County and Madison Township in Fayette County. In 2014, the district went on 288 runs. By 2016, the yearly tallies were between 300 and 350. In 2019, the district hit a record number of runs at 401.
“This year is probably going to be another record,” said Chief Dave Taylor, adding he can’t point to any one reason for the increase in calls. “They’re up pretty much across the board–fires, auto accidents, gas leaks, electric lines down–all have gone up.”
The district runs a combination crew of four full-time staff and 24 volunteers. The full-timers cover day hours Monday through Friday. For the past 18 to 24 months, Taylor has been assigning volunteers to cover evening hours on the weekends. Those volunteers are paid by the hour.
Still needing more guaranteed coverage to keep up with demand, Taylor has added more part-time paid hours in the last four months. The goal, he said, is to have someone on staff at the station at all times.
“Right now, we’ve been able to cover the majority of the hours,” he said.
At the current staffing level, the district has the funds to cover the added personnel costs, but it does not have the funds to cover the hours that remain vacant. The district’s board is turning to the ballot.
The district’s 2.5-mill operating levy expires at the end of 2022. The board plans to put a request for a five-year replacement of the levy on the November 2021 ballot. The timing gives the board time to make the request again if it fails the first time.
Currently, the levy generates $441,335 per year. If the replacement request passes, the levy would generate $514,345 per year as estimated by the Madison County Auditor’s Office. A replacement levy brings tax collection up-to-date with current property values. Tax collection on the updated values would start Jan. 1, 2023. The main purpose of the replacement levy would be to generate added dollars to allow for more paid personnel hours.
The fire district board’s next meeting is July 29 at 8 p.m. at the fire station, 7 W. Columbus St., Mount Sterling.
Taylor also serves as chief of the Sterling Joint Ambulance District. The district recently ordered a new EMS vehicle. The estimated delivery date is April. The $206,545 vehicle will replace an ambulance the district has had since 2011. The old truck has 155,000 miles on it.
The ambulance district board’s next meeting is July 7 at 8 p.m. at the squad bay, 24 S. London St., Mount Sterling. The meeting was moved up due to the Madison County Fair. Following the July meeting, meetings will return to the normal schedule of the second Wednesday of the month.