SIDNEY — Approximately 25 people attended a recent town hall meeting in Sidney to listen to a report presented by Sidney Fire Chief, Bradley S. Jones, and discuss the need for additional staff and eventually building a new fire station on the city’s north side. The meeting was held Tuesday, Oct. 22, at Grace Baptist Church, 137 W. Edgewood Drive.
The purpose of the meeting was to bring the public up to date on the current standing of the city’s fire department, the increasing emergency call volume, and the need to increase staffing to provide a reasonable level of fire protection in and around the city of Sidney. Jones encouraged voters to pass the 0.15 percent municipal income tax levy that will be on the ballot at the upcoming Nov. 5 general election; noting the future security of the city depends on what is decided now.
Jones laid out the current situation citing the critical need for additional staff, then he explained the central facts concerning what the levy is, how funding will be raised, and the multitude of benefits the residents of Sidney will realize and enjoy by passing the proposed levy.
“Our residents have identified public safety as a top priority in Sidney, and our city leadership agrees noting it not only improves our quality of life, but also creates a more attractive environment for future residential and business growth. The city currently has a 0.25 percent municipal income tax that will expire in 2020; the new fire levy will not only insure the current level of fire protection will continue but be improved dramatically. It will provide funding to hire essential firefighters and other emergency personnel, keep our department supplied with vital equipment it needs to provide good service, and eventually allow for the construction of an additional fire house on the north side of town. All these things will contribute to making Sidney, Ohio a better place to work, and more importantly, a better place to live,” Jones said.
Jones expressed his primary concerns and possible solutions.
“Right now our major concern is staffing at our fire department, at present we just do not have enough people to meet the current demands; the department’s call volume has reached historic highs, currently we are averaging over 11 calls per day. Overlapping calls, or situations where our crews are already out when other calls come in have increased from 26 percent in 2009 to 46 percent in 2019. At that rate it is impossible to provide the kind of emergency service our community deserves and needs,” said Jones.
“We have had over 4000 calls per year for the last three years; we have the same size staff we had in 1994 but a 60 percent increase in emergency calls. Calls are “stacking up” daily and it’s only going to get worse with the continuing growth of our town; every day we have times when people make emergency calls and there’s nobody there to help, and that’s unacceptable! I believe we all want what’s best for our families, friends, and loved ones, especially in times of an emergency when precious lives are on the line; we need high quality response — every second counts. I also believe the residents of Sidney will approve this proposed levy once they understand the facts surrounding the issues; there has been a lot if misinformation floating around out there, hopefully tonight, we can lay some of those rumors to rest,” Jones said.
He also pointed out that probably the main reason the levy did not pass in the spring was due to it being a primary election resulting in poor turnout at the polls.
Jones stressed the funding provided by the levy will come from municipal income tax only; it will not tax social security, pensions, disability, 401K’s or investment incomes.
“More than half, or 53 percent of the funding raised by the levy will be paid for by those who live outside of Sidney, but work here and use city services. The levy will cost taxpayers $1.50 per $1.000 of income; for a person earning $35,000 that’s around $4.38 per month or $52.50 a year. The revenue from the 0.15 percent will be restricted to the fire department. Construction, operation, and maintenance of the proposed third fire station on Wapak Avenue will only be possible after additional staffing is acquired. The bricks and mortor is secondary to the staff. Again I want to point out, an adequate and qualified staff is the levy’s priority,” Jones said.
Tom Rossman with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) commented that without the levy it will be impossible for the city to meet the demands of change. “How do we move ahead with no money for operations?” said Rossman.
Jones agreed noting the fire department will not be able to keep up with current and future demands without the levy. Thomas Becker, former CEO with Wilson Health in Sidney, noted the benefits of the passing the levy far outweigh the downside, “The financial burden and impact on the taxpayer is very small compared to the potential benefits that can be realized, the levy is expected to raise approximately $1.4 million a year for much-needed staffing and equipment that will benefit everyone living in and around Sidney, it’s a win-win situation really.” Becker said.
Sidney YMCA CEO Ed Thomas asked what the time table was for constructing the additional fire station on Wapak Avenue.
“As earlier noted, additional staff is the is the primary concern at this time; while we can move some existing equipment around to help meet future needs a new building is no good to us if we have no one to put in it. The levy would move us from 10 on duty firefighters per shift to 13 bringing our total staff from 39 to 44 people. If the levy passes we will immediately begin ramping up our staff to have it ready to go at the time our new facility is ready for use in two years. That said we could issue bonds for the new construction and possible break ground next spring,” Jones said.
He also noted that planning a third station was recommend by a former fire chief “way back in 1978, so the need for the additional station is nothing new,” Jones said.
Wayne Thompson, chief operations officer at Ross Casting, asked how long the levy would be in effect and Jones indicated it is continuous. Greg Nuss then asked if the levy would cover future needs. “Since it is a continuous levy it will insure there will be funding for the department in years to come as opposed to the proposed street levy which is also on the ballot; the street levy will only last for five years if approved,” Jones replied.
Shelby County Commissioner Bob Guillozet was in attendance and is on the committee supporting the levy.
“I was a fireman way back in 1981, and a lot has changed since then. We have witnessed tremendous growth over the years and it’s a totally different atmosphere than it was in the past. We just cannot possibly maintain a good level of service to our community with only 10 fireman on duty, we truly need those extra people on staff to provide the level of security we need. This whole issue is about helping our citizens, about doing what’s best for all of us. I highly recommend voting in favor of this levy, we are at a critical point here and it’s time to do the right thing,” Guillozet said.
In closing Jones again thanked all in attendance for coming and reminded everyone to get the word out about how important passing this levy really is — to everyone in Sidney.
“This operation levy will benefit everyone in Sidney, when you ‘vote yes’ for this levy, you are voting yes for yourself as well as others, thank you in advance for your support,” Jones said.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.