SIDNEY — The need for a fire operations 0.15 percent earned income tax levy and an update on the 2020 fire and EMS contracts with surrounding townships was presented to Sidney City Council during its Monday night workshop session.
Sidney Fire Chief Brad Jones detailed the impact of the levy for the fire department’s staffing and response times and outlined the staff fluctuation over the past 30 years.
At the beginning of his presentation, Jones introduced several people interested in serving on the fire levy committee, including, Wayne Thompson, Tom Becker, Shelby County Commissioner Bob Guillozet and Tom Rossman. Dr. Lisa Alvetro, Kurt Barhorst and Ed Thomas, are also interested in serving on the committee, but were unable to attend Monday’s meeting.
“The fire levy meets some identified needs. The objective is to provide high-quality emergency medical response and fire protection for all residents, improve and address staffing levels to handle historic call volumes. And as a result of addressing our staffing levels, it allows us to construct and the maintenance of a third fire station,” Jones said. It’s important to note that this specific operations levy does not tax Social Security, pensions, retirement incomes, investments, disability or interest income. It does not tax that.”
If approved by voters in November, Jones said the 0.15 percent would not begin until the current .025 percent street levy expires.
“It is interesting to note that more half of the individuals that would be paying this operations levy live outside the city, but use our services and drive on our streets; they dial 911,” he said. “They work inside of town, so we think its a fair way to do it.”
Jones said 10 years ago Fire Chief Stan Crosley conducted a Community Risk Assessment (CRA) that identified the need for additional staffing and to address the SFD’s response times. Then in 2014, Jones said he updated the CRA and it again showed a need for more staffing and to address response times. He also noted Sidney continues to grow, specifically in the north.
Since 2010, Jones pointed out Sidney Fire Department’s (SFD) emergency call volume is at “historic highs” with a 40 percent increase in emergency calls. Currently SFD average more than 11 calls per day, with over 4,000 calls annually. Jones’s presentation included graphs showing the slight fluctuation of SFD staffing from 1988 through 2018. In 1988, there were eight members on staff per day to respond to calls. That number increased to nine in 1991, to 10 in 1994, and then 11 in 1999. Staffing was then reduced back to 10 in 2009 after the economic downturn, and has remained at 10. Jones stressed the number of overlapping calls has greatly increased to 46 percent, versus the 26 percent in 2009.
“If you look at the difference between the call volume from 1994 to 2018, there is a 60 percent increase in call volume in that time span. So this is what is important with this levy, specifically the fire levy. This is an operating levy. This is to address our staffing deficiencies. As a result of the staff increase, it will allow us to better position some crews in areas that allows us to address the response times,” Jones said. “The staffing increase benefits the entire community, not just the northern end of town.”
His report also included various fire and EMS response time maps, which can be viewed along with the entire PowerPoint presentation given to council by clicking the “Levy Presentation” link on the Fire and Emergency Services web page at http://www.sidneyoh.com/fire/index.asp A link to “Frequently Ask Questions” is also available on the web page.
The maps depict how response times change in SFD’s coverage areas from the ability of current staffing at Stations 1 and 2 to only a response from Station 2, (if Station 1 is unavailable due to overlapping calls), to how it would change if staff increases and a third station is added, along with a response map from only Stations 2 and 3.
“Three-quarters of the time, in 2009, we only had one call going on. In 2019, due to the increase of call volume, we are up to 46 percent of the time with multiple alarms going on at the exact same time. Almost half of the time our crews are tied up on multiple incidents,” Jones said. “Ten years ago, 75 percent of the time we still had a crew available at the station to handle the call. In 2019, we don’t. So you can see how this is a staffing issue. This entire levy is built on staffing. Not just building a fire station. We are addressing staffing for the entire community.”
Some discussion then ensued about how to address some of the opposition heard about the levy, including the cost of and need for a third fire station. And people comparing Sidney to Piqua. Jones said about $1.7 million per year would be generated from the levy, and of that, $300,000 will go toward paying off the debt for the station. It was noted this is about 20 percent or less that would go toward the building’s cost, which will end in about 10 years.
Mayor Mike Barhorst pointed out that Piqua is in the same station they have had for 100 years, where as Sidney is looking at the third one 100 years later. Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan also pointed out Sidney Fire is the only full time fire department in Shelby County. Council member Ed Hamaker added that Sidney is a heavier industry city than Piqua and is continuing to grow in that area.
Jones told council yard signs are available to be placed around town. Also they will be knocking on the doors of registered Sidney voters, giving presentations at Sidney service clubs, open houses and a town hall meeting to be held at a Sidney church, as well as conducting a social media campaign to provide information about the fire levy. Information on those dates and locations are coming soon.
After the presenting the levy information, Jones then gave council and update about the contract amounts to be paid by the townships. The following townships will pay the following amounts: Clinton: EMS, $27,975, and fire, $38,379; Orange: EMS, $7,636, and fire, $10,602; Franklin: fire, $9,991; Washington, EMS, $1.
The dollar values reflect a 3 percent increase over the 2019 contracts (except for Washington Township). In Washington Township, Sidney covers a section of Interstate 75 that is less than a mile long, Jones said. The only access to the section in Shelby County is from Sidney.
A resolution on the contracts will be considered by council at its Oct. 14 meeting.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.