Fairfield council will discuss likely fire tax at Jan. 24 meeting

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FAIRFIELD – Whether to go with a replacement property tax levy or an income tax to fund the city's fire department is an issue Fairfield City Council will address at Monday’s meeting.

During last week’s special weekend session, council adopted a resolution asking the Butler County auditor to certify the dollars a 9.25-mill replacement levy would raise.

That was done to give city leaders the flexibility to adopt either a resolution to put the replacement levy on the May 3 ballot or a resolution to put an income tax on the ballot before the Feb. 2 deadline.

Those discussions on which issue to put before voters will begin at Monday’s 5 p.m. council-manager briefing.

“I do think this warrants further discussion,’’ said Councilwoman Leslie Besl.

The replacement levy would raise about $11.2 million annually and increase taxes about $196 annually on a house valued at $150,000, said Jake Burton, the city’s finance director.

Burton estimated the tax would allow the city to transition to a department staffed by full-time personnel over the next five years and last a minimum of six years.

Fire Chief Don Bennett has recommended the department transition to a full-time staff by adding six firefighters by the end of this year and three additional firefighters each of the next four years. The recommendation comes due to increasing difficulty in hiring and retaining part-time firefighters.

An income tax of .2 percent would raise about $4.3 million annually, according to a chart Burton prepared. It would cost an individual with an annual income of $50,000, an additional $100 each year and is projected to last about five years.

All projections, Burton said, do not include any dollars from a SAFER –Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response – grant. Should the city receive such a grant, it would extend the life of either a replacement or income tax levy.

Council members had mixed opinions on whether to go with a property or income tax increase.

“I do like the idea of an income tax better, earmarked solely for public safety,” Besl said.

“I think we’re going to have funding issues with the police department down the road and I think this is a good way to address that.”

Councilman Terry Senger disagreed.

“My thought is an income tax increase is a no-go,” Senger said.

“(A property tax) is easier to sell…because they know we got a great fire department. They know we’re moving to a full-time fire department, provided this passes, and they appreciate the service they get.”

But Councilman Dale Paullus worried about the burden a property tax levy would place on older residents or those on a fixed income.

“There’s a lot of people that will not be able to afford that property tax,’’ Paullus said.

Fairfield resident Arnold Engel said he is in favor of moving to a full-time fire department but would not support a tax increase. He said city leaders should look for cost savings and use general fund dollars instead.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Fairfield council will discuss likely fire tax at Jan. 24 meeting

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