Fairfield voters approve fire levy

Voters approved a 2.5-mill Fairfield fire/EMS levy by a vote of 66.7 percent to 33.3 percent, or 12,966 votes to 6,462, according to unofficial results from the Butler County Board of Elections.

The new tax will raise $2.38 million and will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $87.50 per year, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office.

“We are very blessed, believe me,” said Fairfield Fire Chief Don Bennett. “It is vitally important to us to maintain the highest level of emergency services to the community, and this funding will provide us an opportunity to enhance the level of service we’re currently providing, so we’re grateful for that.”

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Approval of the levy will allow the city to add more fire personnel — increasing staffing to 17 per shift, up from an average of about 13, he said.

Fire levy proponents have said the additional taxation was necessary to make up for the 2011 cuts Gov. John Kasich made in money the state budget distributed to local governments.

“With the state of Ohio reducing the income we were receiving from the Local Government Fund and tangible property tax, things like that being taken away from us in 2011, we’ve been subsidizing this fire levy from our general fund, which of course has been taking money away from other projects that the city could be working on, like roads, public works, and things like that,” said Kari Russo, who led the citizens’ campaign for the levy.

Without the fire levy, it would not be sustainable for the city’s general fund to continue to provide the level of services it had been providing, Russo said.

“We’re very grateful to the citizens of Fairfield for supporting the levy and recognizing the importance of the levy passing,” Russo said.

Since about 2013, fire operations have had to be funded through the city’s general operating fund, and “the ability for us to do any expansion or addition of personnel was not possible,” Bennett said. “So this will allow us to bring our staffing levels up to an appropriate number, to the demand of service.”

Tuesday was the first time in 15 years that voters in the city were asked to approve a fire levy. Since that levy was approved, “our runs have doubled,” the chief said. “So we’ve had a significant increase in the demand for service.”

With the tax losses, the city lost about $500,000 yearly.

“This (levy passage) will allow us to no longer be a drain on the general fund,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he was thankful for the committee of residents that led the levy campaign.

“Certainly this has been, in my 32 years in the city of Fairfield, just the most energetic, dedicated group of people,” he said of the levy committee. “They are just absolutely a group of dedicated, very conscientious citizens in our community, and they they deserve a lot of recognition for the amount of work and efforts they put forth on this.”

Staff writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this report.