Township to float levy renewal
- Published: August 7, 2014
Miami Township Trustees voted at their meeting this month to place a Township Fire-Rescue levy renewal on the ballot in November. The trustees chose a renewal, which does not increase taxes, for several reasons, including the possibility that they may ask voters for a new levy next year to build a new fire station.
The issue is a renewal of the current five-year fire/EMS levy at 3.8 mills. The levy costs residents $115.95 per $100,000 of property valuation, meaning a home owner with a property appraised at $200,000 would pay $231.90. If voters approve the renewal levy this fall, the collection rate will remain the same as it has been for the past 20 years.
The trustees chose to renew instead of replace the levy at a higher rate partly to be conservative in case they needed to ask voters the following year to approve a levy to build a new fire station, according to Chris Mucher, president of the board. The Township for over three years has actively sought a property in town to accommodate a building to replace the current one on Corry Street, which is too small and ill-fitted for a modern emergency response operation.
The Township also chose the renewal because last year the Ohio legislature eliminated the homestead rollback tax exemption on all replacement levies, which are levies that increase the millage rate. The decision removed the state’s obligation to reimburse local governments for the long-time 12.5 percent tax exemption to senior residents. The result would be that the Township would likely collect less than they do with the current millage rate.
For both reasons, Mucher said, the trustees chose to simply renew the levy at the former rate.
The fire/EMS levy generates about $515,000 per year and is the department’s largest revenue source. With an annual income of about $85,000 from EMS billing, the department’s 2013 budget was balanced at about $600,000, with an annual carryover of $224,000. The fire department has managed balanced budgets over the past five years and was still able to transition to the statewide MARCS communication system last year, replacing its radios and software at a cost of $200,000, Fire Chief Colin Altman said. And the department is on schedule for its vehicle and equipment replacement, he said.
As a combination paid and volunteer squad of about 40, the fire department responded to a total of 988 calls last year, down slightly from just over 1,000 calls in the two years prior. This year the squad is on track to exceed 1,000 calls again in both the village and the township, Altman said.
Of the total fire budget, 48 percent goes to building maintenance, vehicles, turn-out gear and equipment such as hoses, air compressors and radios. That leaves 52 percent for personnel, including five full-time and seven part-time staff members. Because the number of volunteer members has dropped to 28, over the past 10 years the department has slowly added more paid staff. Altman, Assistant Chief Denny Powell and Sergeant Chris Kitts all received insurance and full pension benefits, while two others receive insurance but no pension. The volunteers receive a small stipend per call.
The combination volunteer and paid staff model works well for the local fire and EMS squad, Altman said. The volunteers, half of whom reside in the township, create a deeper connection to the community and also help the department to keep its costs down. According to Altman, national statistics say that a partial volunteer department conveys a savings of $1,000 per year to every household. Sugarcreek Township, for instance, which serves a similarly sized population with a similar volume of emergency runs, has a paid staff fire department and a budget that exceeds $1 million.
The Township does have to work harder to keep its volunteers, including regular recruiting, offering its own training courses, scheduling to fill in the gaps and managing occasional longer response times, Altman said.
“Some nights we’re an all-volunteer squad, and sometimes we worry that we’re going to have enough people show up,” he said. “We always do, but it’s tight sometimes,” he said, referring to his own midnight calls to sub for a team that’s short.
Still, the department manages to arrive at the scene in less than five minutes on 80 percent of its calls — a measure that rivals any large city department, Altman said.
“It’s a balancing act, but people should be happy and proud and feel safe” with the local fire/EMS department, he said.
The billing for medical calls the Township began about seven years ago has generated a significant amount of income that has helped reduce the need to ask for increased tax funds, Altman said. Because such a high percentage of local residents are insured, the department is able to maintain a 60–70 percent collection rate.
“Fortunately we’re in an upper middle class community, where almost everyone has some level of insurance … we’re budgeted to receive about $85,000 a year [in EMS billing,] but we typically bring in closer to $100,000,” which is reinvested in medical salaries, training and equipment, he said.
“It’s definitely helped us keep the levy where it is.”
The Township itself subsists on its inside millage rate of 2.1 mills for township residents and .6 mills for village residents, which has never been increased. That millage for township roads and the general fund costs Township residents $64.32 per $100,000 of property valuation and Yellow Springs and Clifton residents $18.38 per $100,000 of property valuation (only township residents are charged for the road millage, according to the Greene County auditor.)
“There’s never been a general operating levy or a road and bridge or cemetery levy in the history of the Township,” Mucher said.
Instead, the trustees have operated frugally in the face of state funding cuts, reducing road personnel from two full-time positions to one full-time person, Dan Gochenouer, and a part-timer. The township has also managed to contribute to the fire fund regularly from its general fund to purchase some equipment.
While the fire department did get a small levy in addition to its operating levy in the 1990s, it was not renewed. And since then, the department has managed to balance its needs with the money it has.
“We try to be prudent, fiscal stewards of the money we’re given,” Altman said. “We’re always cognizant that this is an expensive community to live in, and we don’t want to make it any more expensive than it has to be.”