SIDNEY — Sidney Fire Chief Brad Jones announced the names of the volunteer committee members who will be working to pass the 0.15 percent earned income tax levy that will be on the November ballot. The levy will provide permanent funding for fire department operations.
The fire levy will be presented alone on Election Day after being separated from the street levy. The 0.30 percent levy, which combined streets and fire needs, was placed on the May ballot. It was intended to replace the current 0.25 percent levy for street maintenance that will expire Dec. 31, 2019. It was defeated by voters in May.
“We listened to voters, the council listened, and (voters) said, ‘Hey, it should have been two different things.’ And we said, ‘OK, were are going to bring it back as two different (levies),’” Jones said. “It’s vitally important that we address staffing. And the staffing needs helps the entire community.
“The key to it is staffing. As a result of that, we can better locate crews to better adjust response times. And our objective is to go 13 (staff members) assigned per day,” Jones said, opposed to the 10 fire staff members currently assigned per day.
The fire levy committee was formed in August after gathering “city and business stakeholders from the community who have a vested interest in the safety of their fellow citizens,” Jones said. These individuals will “help facilitate the process through support and networking.”
In addition to Jones, campaign committee members include Mayor Mike Barhorst, Shelby County Commissioner Bob Guillozet, retired Wilson Health CEO Tom Boecker, Sidney-Shelby County YMCA Director Ed Thomas, Ross Casting COO Wayne Thompson, Tom Rossman and his wife, Dr. Lisa Alvetro of Alvetro Orthodontics, and Air Handling Equipment President Kurt Barhorst.
“I think fire and rescue is critical to any community and so when I met with Brad and heard about the staffing issues, which were the same as in 1994, and about the 60 percent increase in call volume, I didn’t hesitate to join the committee. I think people need to know this is a staffing issue,” Boecker said. “The number of calls and volume — a 60 percent increase — to me is unbelievable, and when staffing is the same as it was back then. And 46 percent of the time calls overlap. No one wants to pay more taxes, but I think this is a legitimate request.”
“This is really a staffing issue. The volume of staffing does not match up to the volume of calls,” he continued. “A small part will go to the building. Less than 18 percent (of levy funds) will go to the building. Most of the expense will go to cover the staffing. I hope the community will support the levy.”
If approved by voters in November, the 0.15 percent would not begin until the current .025 percent street levy expires.
Thomas said he joined the committee because he is committed to what is in the best interest of the community. Between the increased number of calls coming into Sidney Fire for help, as well as the community’s geographical growth, he said there is a gap in coverage.
“It is a misunderstanding that the levy is not just for a facility, but that staffing is needed. We have great coverage in some areas, but not all of town,” Thomas said.
The committee was formed to educate Sidney voters about the need for the operational levy. Members have several methods set to better inform the public about the fire levy, including the following:
• An open house at Station 1, 222 W. Poplar St., on Oct. 20 from 1 to 4 p.m.
• A town hall meeting at Grace Baptist Church, 137 W. Edgewood St., on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.
• A newly created Facebook page named Sidney Fire Levy, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Fire-Protection-Service/Sidney-Fire-Levy-116595293080190/.
• Canvassing the neighborhoods of registered Sidney voters on Saturday morning, Oct. 26, to hand out tri-folds containing fire levy information.
The same PowerPoint presentation that was given at Sidney City Council meetings and Sidney service clubs will be shown to those who attend the open house and town hall meeting, Jones said. The presentation details the impact of the levy for the fire department’s staffing and response times and outlines the staff fluctuation over the past 30 years.
Aside from the 3,000 tri-folds being distributed by the levy committee, campaign yard signs are being placed in yards around town and the digital billboard on the corner of Vandemark Road and state Route 47 encourages voters to vote “Yes.”
“We are excited about it,” Jones said of the potential of the levy passing. “We have to address the staffing.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.