BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — On a typical Saturday, the Maumee Fire Division’s paramedics spend their time between calls on cleaning and stocking the rigs, catching up on training and cooking a meal to share with coworkers.
Saturday, April 22 was different.
Paramedic Ryan Pearson was inside the ambulance, explaining the equipment to children. P.J. Fournier answered questions about the water rescue gear. Chris Mulinix helped kids climb aboard the ladder truck, and fire inspector Lance Tunison directed a steady flow of kid traffic through the fire safety house.
“We’ve had a great turnout,” said Fire Chief Brandon Loboschefski, as he stood in the front entrance, greeting visitors and directing traffic.
While hundreds of families came through the fire station during the three-hour open house, no one stayed for a one-hour session set aside to answer the public’s questions about a 5.6-mill levy that’s on the Tuesday, May 2 ballot.
“The only question I had from a citizen was, ‘Did the city look at other revenue sources or did they just jump to property taxes as a solution,’” Loboschefski said. “And, yes, the city did.”
Patrick Burtch, Maumee’s administrator, elaborated.
“We looked at income tax and everything else,” Burtch said. “One of the reasons we went with a property tax is that the people who traditionally use these services are those who pay property taxes. Income tax is heavily reliant on people who travel to work here every day, but don’t live here, and property tax is a more stable source, where income tax could have wild fluctuations depending on the federal, state and local economic conditions.”
Maumee receives just 5 percent of a Maumee resident’s total property tax payment, and those funds are divided up for all services, including public works, refuse collection and safety services. It costs $3 million a year to operate the fire/EMS services, including $2.6 million for personnel costs alone.
Calls for service have increased at least 15 percent over the last three years, with EMS incidents accounting for at least 75 percent of those calls. In 2022, Maumee was the third-busiest fire department in western Lucas County, with 2,561 incidents. For a city of over 13,000, this has been done without a fire levy, which is unusual for a department of its size.
The 5.6-mill levy is expected to generate $2.9 million, and that will help the department transition from a paid-on-call (what the community thinks of as volunteer) department to one in which the 15 paramedics who staff the station 24 hours a day are joined by on-staff firefighters.
Maumee is one of the few municipalities of its size to still utilize the paid-on-call model. Like other communities across the United States, Maumee has seen a drop in the number of paid-on-call personnel who can respond at a moment’s notice, Burtch said. That drop is due to changing family dynamics – such as both family members working full time or single parents who are unable to leave their children at home – as well as a big increase in the amount of training needed to remain certified.
With the passage of the levy, the city will provide round-the-clock coverage through full-time staff augmented by round-the-clock part-time staff, Burtch and Loboschefski explained.
“When people pick up the phone and call 911, they want someone to come help. We’ve been able to do that, but we’ve been very challenged to respond to all of our calls without asking for help from our neighbors,” Loboschefski said. “That’s why a levy is so important – so that we can maintain and sustain our staffing. It’s not slowing down. The longer we wait, the worse the problem becomes.”
Another factor that prompted the city to opt for a levy is an expected loss, or at least lowering, of funding from Lucas County to provide Advanced Life Support (ALS) coverage through Life Squad 7. The county currently pays $804,000 a year to Maumee and nine other fire departments that operate Life Squad units, even though the cost is $1.6 million a year. Maumee still needs to provide ALS services, even if that funding ceases.
“The county’s decision to change the EMS system means we’re relying more heavily on our taxpayers to fund the same service. Add that on top of an outdated paid-on-call system and it’s a perfect storm,” Burtch said. “The levy will allow us additional staffing to handle the increase in calls and to decrease the response times.”
If approved, Maumee property owners will pay $196 per year per $100,000 in home value. The collections would begin on the 2024 property taxes, providing a stream of funding that same year. If the levy isn’t passed, Burtch said full-time staff will be reduced, resulting in significant changes to response time.
As Loboschefski greeted visitors to the station last week, he passed out a fact sheet created by a citizen committee that was formed to promote the levy. He and Burtch will continue to field questions from residents until the Tuesday, May 2 election.
“We want to be as honest and transparent as possible with the community – it’s their service. We have the trust of the community, which has supported us over the years. I believe they will continue to do so,” Loboschefski said.