Fire Co-Op Levy To Generate Lower Than Expected Revenue

Crews from Waterville Fire Department assisted with a fire on Toledo Street in Whitehouse earlier this month. Both departments are working together on a more regular basis. PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITEHOUSE FIRE CHIEF JOSHUA HARTBARGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Anticipated revenues generated from a 3.25-mill levy for a fire co-op may fall short of original predictions, but Waterville Fire Chief Doug Meyer and Whitehouse Fire Chief Josh Hartbarger say it won’t affect their plan to hire additional fire/EMS employees to serve a growing area.

Last week, the chiefs learned that the impact of an auditor’s incorrect estimate will result in $400,000 less than the $1.7 million originally projected for collection if all three communities approve the 3.25-mill levy.

“The only thing that’s different is the estimated revenue. It won’t change the amount that property owners will pay, it will only change the amount that’s brought in,” said Whitehouse administrator Jordan Daugherty.

Property owners will still pay the $114 per year for every $100,000 in value. 

When a levy is proposed, the Lucas County Auditor looks at property values for the affected municipalities and makes an estimate on how much millage is needed to raise the desired amount of money. While White-house and Waterville estimates were accurate, the Waterville Township values were incorrect because they also included values for homes in Whitehouse – and some properties would have been doubled-taxed.

“The trustees, of course, did not want anyone to be double-taxed, so the board limited the township levy to the unincorporated territory of the township. This lessened the amount that the township tax would collect,” explained Lucas County assistant prosecutor John Borell.

Daugherty said he can understand how the mistake was made, since Whitehouse conformed its boundaries last year and is no longer a part of the township that it’s been a part of since it was founded. As a result, the auditor’s estimates now show the 3.25-mill levy in the township as raising $205,000 instead of $640,000. 

Waterville’s collections are estimated to bring in $641,179 and for Whitehouse, $408,085. The township trustees could decide in January to keep two continuing 1.5-mill levies that bring in about $110,000 a year – the amount that is paid to the two area fire departments under a current contract. 

While the funding isn’t what the chiefs originally hoped for, both say it won’t affect a solid plan to build up a full-time staff to meet the needs of a growing community. If the levies pass, Waterville will add six full-time staff and Whitehouse four full-time staff immediately. 

“The most vital part of the plan was to add staffing,” Hartbarger said.

Both departments have seen a call volume that’s steadily rising, but the number of available volunteers to answer the calls quickly is steadily declining. It’s a problem faced by fire departments throughout the nation. Would-be volunteers are often busy with full-time jobs, family and other commitments and find the increasing training requirements to be a hurdle.

With the co-op, personnel will undergo the same training and standard operating procedures to be able to work interchangeably in both departments, if they desire. While both departments automatically respond to structure fires for one another, this would expand to any other incident where more staff is needed, such as motor vehicle accidents.

During an October 14 fire in Whitehouse, Waterville sent four firefighters to the scene. Bob Grogan, a captain with Waterville, acted as Hartbarger’s accountability officer at the scene. Four other Waterville officers stood by at the Whitehouse Fire Station to take other calls.

“This is bigger than the fire departments,” Hartbarger said of the co-op. “The three communities are working together to solve a big problem. We can make it work. We’re fixing an issue in partnership with each other.”

The co-op will allow for more purchasing power. Recently, both chiefs worked with Penn Care Inc. to get a better deal on ambulances for each community, using Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. Working together will enhance grant opportunities elsewhere, Hartbarger said.

The ability to purchase the ambulances with these federal relief funds will provide some relief from the $400,000 hit. With personnel as the focus, the plan instead is to absorb the loss in years 6-10 when it comes time for capital purchases. Those will be made with debt service or from the General Fund instead of cash, said Daugherty.

For more information, visit the Waterville Issue 5 or the Whitehouse Fire/ EMS Levy pages on Facebook.

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