8.9-mill fire levy proposed for Jerome

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Conversation over a proposed fire levy in Jerome Township will continue until the middle of July.

The board of trustees held its regular meeting Monday evening where the levy was proposed and the meeting was then continued to Tuesday afternoon for further discussion.

The township’s Division of Fire Chief, Doug Stewart, presented the levy to the board Monday, which outlined the details and benefits of putting the levy on the November ballot.

Stewart proposed an 8.9 mill levy that would be an overall increase of 6.6 mills.

He said the driving force behind the need for a new levy is the continual growth of the township and with that growth, comes the need for more staffing.

The township currently has the fire station on U.S. 42, built in 1991, but with the planned addition of more than a 2,000 homes in the Jerome Village development in the coming years, the township has committed to staffing a second station in the development.

Stewart said the fire department has already been running with limited staff and resources for several years and the new station would magnify that need.

“Right now, if we get a call for something like a difficulty breathing, we have to dump all our resources into that one run,” Stewart said. “When we have two stations, I won’t have to dump those resources on one incident. I still have the availability of another apparatus.”

Jerome’s fire station consists of three units with a lieutenant/shift commander, four full-time firefighters or medics and 2-4 part-time firefighters or medics. He said this set-up has, at times, left each response unit short 1-2 people when they go on a run.

“The issue will just be compounded once a new station is in place if we don’t get ahead of this issue,” Stewart said. “As much as we need it, this is something we needed to fix before hand, with or without a new station.”

Jerome Village has agreed to kick in $5.5 million for the building of the new station and begin the process of stocking equipment. Stewart said although that will help the fire division greatly, it still doesn’t account for the lack of funding for additional staff.

The new 8.9 mill levy will only be used for operations costs and wouldn’t take into consideration capital expenses.

Currently, the township operates on a budget of $2,957,333 and with three levies: a 2.3 mill levy from 1991, a 10 mill levy from 1992 and a 2.9 mill levy from 2011.

If the new levy moves forward, the 2.9-mill levy from 2011 would expire or drop off.

Stewart said to operate two stations in the township, the fire division budget would need to increase to over $5 million.

“We’ve looked at this a number of different ways and have worked on it the last year. We’re trying to propose this levy as-is to prepare for the future,” Stewart said. “We don’t want to understaff this thing and have to come back in another five years and say we were wrong and ask for more.”

Some concerns have been raised about putting the burden on the existing taxpayers in New California—specifically for costs attributed to a station that will be more than five miles away.

The new levy would essentially double the amount that residents currently pay.

Early calculations presented by Stewart show an increase of $840 per year, which averages out to $70 a month or $2.30 per day.

“We are doubling it and I know that is difficult,” Stewart said. “But we’re doubling in size as a community and we’re playing catch-up for the last 10-15 years.”

He said the new station would also allow the fire department to increase their response times on calls.

According to information provided by the fire department, response times for residents in New California can be as fast as 1-2 minutes; however, for the areas in the northern part of the township and in Jerome Village area, response times can be closer to 10-12 minutes depending on their location.

“Those initial moments are crucial and we want to do whatever we can to make our ability to treat members of this community more efficiently,” Stewart said. “If we can properly staff both of our stations, that will benefits every resident in the township greatly.”

According to the Union County Auditor’s Office, the paperwork for a new levy would have to be filed the first week of August.

Township officials said they would set some town hall meetings in the coming weeks to get public input. They plan to have a decision by the middle of July.



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