Fairfield voters will see fire levy on May 3 ballot

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Fairfield City Council members are placing a continuing 9.25-mill levy on the May 3 ballot to allow the fire department to change its staffing to full-time positions.
Fairfield City Council members are placing a continuing 9.25-mill levy on the May 3 ballot to allow the fire department to change its staffing to full-time positions.

FAIRFIELD – A levy on the May 3 ballot could help Fairfield convert its fire department from a combination career/part-time staff to all full-time firefighters.

Council members on Monday voted to place a continuing 9.25-mill levy on the ballot. It would replace two smaller levies totaling 7.15 mills.

The levy, if approved, 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.

The levy is needed because of a lack of qualified part-time firefighters, a problem all departments are facing, said Chief Don Bennett.

His plan is to hire six firefighters this year and three per year for the next four years for a total of 18.

There are currently eight openings out of 36 positions for part-time firefighters and no applicants, said Randy McCreadie, deputy chief.

Since 2015 the department has hired 148 part-time firefighters and during the last three years, 78 have left.

Part-time firefighters on average stay with the department 10 months before leaving – mostly to take full-time firefighting jobs, Bennett said.

“We’re all fishing from the same pond,’’ McCreadie said.

Last year the city paid $1.4 million for 29,000 hours of overtime to full-time firefighters to cover shifts. Bennett said he has reduced the number on each shift from 18 to 15 due to a lack of personnel.

“Public safety is going to be a crisis sooner rather than later if we don’t take action,’’ said Councilman Tim Abbott.

Residents Arnold Engel and Steve Barrett both agreed the department needs to be converted to full-time personnel but are not in favor of raising taxes to do so.

“I think there’s places to cut,’’ Barrett said.

Before voting on the levy council members debated whether to put an income tax levy on the ballot, citing a burden on those with a fixed income if a property tax were placed on the ballot.

“We have looked at other ways to do this,’’ said Councilman Matt Davidson. “I know that we’ve done everything we can and this is what we have to do.”

Council members Abbott and Terry Senger said they preferred a replacement property tax levy citing the community’s familiarity with funding the department that way.

“People have supported the fire levy for decades because when they vote for it, they know what the numbers are and they know exactly what that’s going to support. They know what it’s going to be used for,” Senger said.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Fairfield voters will see fire levy on May 3 ballot

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