ELECTION: West Carrollton seeks tax hike to hire firefighters, curb brownouts

West Carrollton is seeking a new fire levy to hire more staff. The 3.9-mill issue - if approved - would add full- and part-time firefighters to address staff shortages that have caused temporary closures to Station 56, seen here, and Station 57. NICK BLIZZARD/STAFF
West Carrollton is seeking a new fire levy to hire more staff. The 3.9-mill issue - if approved - would add full- and part-time firefighters to address staff shortages that have caused temporary closures to Station 56, seen here, and Station 57. NICK BLIZZARD/STAFF

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Ohio primary election was moved from March 17. The deadline to vote in the Ohio primary election is April 28. Voters must request an absentee ballot from their county’s board of election if they have not already voted. All absentee ballots mailed in must have a postmark of April 27 to be counted, and all ballots must be received by the boards by May 8 to be counted. Voters can drop off the ballots to board offices in person by 7:30 p.m. April 28. In-person voting will be offered on April 28, but will only occur at boards of elections early voting center and only be available for people with disabilities who require in-person voting and people who do not have a home mailing address. Local election officials say voters need to make sure they include all the required information on absentee ballot request forms and pay close attention to unsolicited request forms they get in the mail. State law allows ballots to be scanned but they cannot be tabulated until 7:30 p.m. April 28.

Fire services in West Carrollton have been temporarily shut down on average for more than two months annually in recent years because of staff shortages.

That’s led the city to put a proposed tax increase on the March 17 ballot to pay for more firefighters and avoid possibly doubling response times.

Voter approval of Issue 5 would fund the hiring of four full-time firefighters next year. Levy passage is a key step in significantly reducing future temporary shutdowns – or brownouts – in the West Carrollton Fire Department, city records show.

The city, which has traditionally relied mostly on part-time firefighters, has commonly lost staff to other jurisdictions in recent years.

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That’s prompted an average of 1,653 service brownout hours – equal to nearly 69 days — annually in recent years, Fire Chief Chris Barnett said. Most of those brownouts have involved medic units, but they have also included entire stations, city records show.

“There’s this push for full-time positions throughout the region,” he said. “It just seems like it’s a never-ending cycle” to replace part-time crews.

Issue 5 is a 3.9-mill, five-year issue that would increase the taxes for owners of homes valued at $100,000 to about $136 a year, according to the city.

The levy is expected to generate about $672,000 per year to hire the full-time firefighters and retain the full-time staff hired last year, Barnett said.

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It would also provide competitive wages for part-time staff and improve the educational assistance they get, helping West Carrollton to “set ourselves apart” from other jurisdictions, he said.

In 2016, West Carrollton’s Fire Department had about 45 part-time and seven full-time staff, Barnett said. The number of part-time staff dropped to 35 and 25 in the following two years, respectively, before dipping to 22 in 2019, he said.

Issue 5’s approval will mean brownouts at Stations 56 and 57 “will be significantly reduced” and response times – which may double without the levy – should return to normal levels, Barnett said.

“If some in my family has an emergency and needs a paramedic,” West Carrollton City Councilman Harold Robinson said, “I don’t want them to take twice as long to get there as they used to take.”

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Few people favor tax hikes, he said, “but you become interested in that when you really look seriously at the facts.”

Barnett has said several factors have played a role in West Carrollton’s situation. They include the regional hiring of full-time firefighters, the rising cost of obtaining certifications, a drop in interest in public service and a decline in available part-time candidates.

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Voters who want to get their ballots in before primary Election Day on March 17 can vote absentee by mail or in person at their county board of elections offices.

The deadline to request absentee mail ballots is three days before the election, or March 14. Absentee ballots must be signed. Absentee ballots that are mailed must be postmarked by the day before the election to be counted, or they can be returned in-person at the county board of elections before polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. (Do not take the ballot to a polling place.)

Early voting hours are the same in all counties:

‒ 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays through March 6

‒ 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 7

‒ 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday, March 9, to Friday, March 13

‒ 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 14

‒ 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15

‒ 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, March 16

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