I recently wrote about council’s biennial planning process, and some of the goals that have been established by previous councils. As readers will recall, I spoke about the need for good streets as well as the need for additional staffing for the fire department. Today, I want to further discuss both issues, and the importance of passing both issues on Nov. 5.
In polling conducted some months ago, the citizens of Sidney identified police/fire safety and infrastructure as Sidney’s top priorities. City Council members are in full agreement with residents, and for those who read my previous column, know that both topics have been discussed by multiple councils.
To maintain and improve the quality of life for residents and to help attract developers, businesses and future residents, we need to provide high-quality, emergency medical response and fire protection. In addition, we need to continue the progress that we have made in returning city streets to a regular maintenance schedule.
After the combined levy failed in May, City Council again debated whether to put both issues on the ballot independent of each other or to place a single issue on the ballot. The feedback councilmembers received was that the issues should be split, allowing each issue to stand or fail on its own. As a result, there will be two issues on the November ballot.
There will be a five-year levy that would provide for a fifteen-hundredth of one percent income tax. The tax monies raised by that levy would be limited to the replacement and repair of streets and bridges in Sidney. Without the funds, streets and bridges will again begin the process of deteriorating, thus creating major vehicle maintenance problems for those who travel our streets and roads.
Since the current five-year street levy was passed in 2014, nearly 70 miles (about 60 percent) of city streets and roads have been resurfaced. That five-year levy expires in December of this year. The proposed levy would begin in January 2020. We need to continue the progress that has been made so that we can have all City streets on a regular maintenance schedule.
The second ballot issue would be a permanent levy that would provide a fifteen-hundredth of one percent income tax that would provide funds to construct, equip and staff a third fire station. In the past 50 years, Sidney has grown in size by 48 percent, our population has increased more than 20 percent, and, call volume has increased more than 899 percent! Call volume continues to increase at an alarming rate, and increased 11 percent again this past month over the previous year.
We need to increase fire department staffing. We are operating the department at the same staffing levels as 1995, when call volume was about half of what it is today. Just ten years ago, the department had overlapping calls about a quarter of the time. Today, there are overlapping calls about 50 percent of the time. There have been occasions when the station is empty, and still another call comes in. Thus far, we’ve been able to manage without tragedy. What keeps me awake at night is knowing that one day, we’ll not be so fortunate.
A story that haunts me is that of Sidney Fire Chief Henry Yost. In 1906, he requested council appropriate funds so that the department could purchase new ladders. Council determined that the department’s ladders were sufficient.
Unfortunately, on May 6, 1906, Fire Chief Yost fell to his death while fighting a fire at a home on Wilkinson Avenue when the ladder on which he was standing broke. After Chief Yost’s death, Council quickly appropriated funds for new ladders.
The Sidney Fire Department has been telling us for more than forty years that they need additional help. Let’s not wait until there is some tragedy to provide the tools they need to save lives.
Some residents have asked why we need a “continuing” levy. The need for funds to operate the fire department is a permanent one. If call volume continues to increase (and given an aging population, it likely will), we will come to a point that without additional boots on the ground, someone will call 9-1-1 and will be told that there will be no one to immediately respond.
Both of the levies apply only to municipal taxable income for people who work or live in the City of Sidney. Not only does Sidney has more manufacturing jobs per capita than any other city in Ohio, but we have jobs outside of manufacturing that also attract people who work here but live outside of Sidney. In fact, 53 percent of the tax will be paid by those who live outside the City limits.
Importantly for those on fixed incomes, the levy will not tax Social Security, pension or disability benefits. In addition, it does not tax investment income or income from 401K plans.
Recently a resident asked why we needed a third station when Piqua only had one. While Piqua once had a greater population than Sidney, that is no longer the case. Piqua’s population has not grown in the last half century. Over that same period of time, Sidney’s population has grown by nearly 20.2 percent! As noted earlier, Sidney also has 48 percent more area than it did fifty years ago and call volume has ballooned more than 899 percent!
For those who would want to compare Sidney to Piqua rather than communities that have multiple fire stations, the Piqua Fire Department is still housed in the same building they were using more than a century ago. I know if you asked Piqua City Manager Gary Huff he would tell you that the department not only needs a new central station, but additional stations as well.
Voters may forget that in 1978, Sidney had the highest per capita unemployment rate in the state of Ohio. Twelve years later, Sidney had the lowest percapita unemployment rate in the state of Ohio.
The turnaround was the result of a great deal of hard work on the part of a lot of people. Sidney has been very fortunate to have had good civic leadership — people who have cared deeply about the community and had the courage to make tough decisions that have provided long-term benefits for our residents. That is what we are asking voters to do again — move the community forward.
Very simply, Sidney needs to continue to move forward. Without the passage of these levy issues, Sidney will not be able to add additional fire fighters or continue the current level of street improvements. I would encourage you to join in helping make Sidney a more livable community.
The writer is the mayor of Sidney.