Trotwood, Jefferson Twp. discuss possible joint fire district

Trotwood and Jefferson Twp. are discussing possible creation of a joint fire district, but any such decision would now require a vote of township residents.

In a Dec. 2 letter to Jefferson Twp. Trustee President Roy Mann, Trotwood City Manager Quincy Pope wrote that he “gives permission” for Trotwood fire staff to “discuss the pros and cons” of a joint fire district with the township’s fire staff.

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Jefferson Twp. Trustee James McGuire said the discussion process began some time ago. McGuire said he learned last week that five meetings between the communities’ fire/EMS leadership had already been held.

Ohio law would allow a joint fire district to be created via a majority vote of Trotwood’s city council and Jefferson Twp. trustees. Both Pope and Mann said it was just in the talking stages between the fire departments.

But McGuire said he introduced a resolution last week requiring a public vote to protect the rights of Jefferson Twp. residents, who just voted in November to approve an additional fire levy for their own jurisdiction.

“With a decision this big, and the fact that the voters didn’t know about (this possibility) going into that 5.5-mill levy vote in November, we need to know for sure that this is truly what the residents of Jefferson want,” McGuire said. “It gives them a voice.”

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Trotwood Mayor Mary McDonald acknowledged Friday that Pope had just informed her of the discussions after he received a call from a reporter. McDonald said she’s definitely open to the discussions.

“I don’t know the details of it, but there are less dollars out there than ever before in terms of trying to provide services,” McDonald said. “I applaud them for sitting down to see if there are ways that we can work together. I’m definitely open for that. At the end of the day, we’re trying to help people.”

The city of Trotwood is north of Jefferson Twp., with U.S. 35 serving as the border between the communities. Both stretch west to Diamond Mill Road and east to borders with Harrison Twp., Dayton and Moraine.

Trotwood has fire stations on Salem Avenue south of Turner, at Little Richmond and Ohio 49, and on Union Road just south of downtown. Jefferson Twp. has stations at U.S. 35 and Third Street, and at Union Road and Germantown Pike.

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Pope’s letter to Mann suggests joint fire districts can increase the efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility of the fire departments.

“Faced with increased costs and budgetary constraints, fire departments should explore the possibility of joining services as a way to stabilize or reduce fire protection costs,” Pope wrote.

Pope said Trotwood struggles to recruit and hire part-time fire personnel, a problem McGuire said Jefferson Twp. also has. Pope said the two departments are studying best practices from across the country.

“The pros are you’re sharing resources, you’re not duplicating services, and it allows you to have more resources available,” Pope said Friday. “We have a fiduciary obligation to look at the way we spend taxpayer dollars. I think it makes sense to explore every possible way to provide services.”

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Current Jefferson Twp. Fire Chief Gene Lutz has knowledge of both communities. He served seven years with Trotwood’s fire department before resigning as chief in January 2010, then was hired as Jefferson Twp. chief early this year. Lutz could not be reached for comment Friday.

McGuire said Lutz did a good job of “whipping the department into shape” after he was hired early this year.

But McGuire argued that voters might have rejected Jefferson Twp.’s 5.5-mill additional fire/EMS levy last month if they had known township officials were already discussing changing the structure of fire protection in the community.

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The levy did pass, by a 56-44 ratio. It is a permanent levy, and starting in January, it will raise about $445,000 per year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $192.50 per year.

Miamisburg and Miami Twp. formed the most recent joint fire district in the area early this decade. Miamisburg City Manager Keith Johnson said it’s a long process, and if a fire district is approved, the two jurisdictions likely would begin by using their existing levy funds to pay for district operations.

Eventually, they would have to determine how to change staffing, equipment and fire station locations, Johnson said, and determine a necessary funding amount. Then the new fire district would put a tax levy on the ballot that, if approved, would replace the two communities’ existing fire levies.

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