Fire station shut downs remain possible this year despite tax hike approval

Station 56 on West Central Avenue in West Carrollton has been the site of most of the temporary fire service shutdowns. NICK BLIZZARD/STAFF

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Station 56 on West Central Avenue in West Carrollton has been the site of most of the temporary fire service shutdowns. NICK BLIZZARD/STAFF

Temporarily shutting down fire stations or medic units remains a possibility in West Carrollton until 2021, when revenue collections from a property tax hike strongly supported by voters last week.

The city expects this fall to begin the hiring process for firefighters, but staffing shortages that led West Carrollton officials seeking the 3.9-mill, five-year levy will likely remain until January, Fire Chief Chris Barnett said.

“The possibility of that happening” remains “because we’re not changing any of the staffing model until funding becomes available. So the potential for that is still there,” Barnett said.

The property tax hike approved by 70.7% of voters will cost the owners of homes valued at $100,000 about $136 a year, according to the city.

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About $672,000 a year will be generated to hire four full-time firefighters and retain the full-time staff hired last year, records show.

The tax hike funds will also provide more competitive wages and improve education assistance for part-time staff, officials have said.

Barnett said he expects to talk with City Manager Brad Townsend in the weeks ahead to map out the hiring process.

“Our intentions are to start looking at doing some of the preliminary hiring process prior the beginning of 2021 in hopes of having people on board directly after the year ends,” he said.

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“So we can have a lot of the process in the fall and toward the end of the year completed so we can immediately start looking at hiring people at the first of the year,” Barnett added.

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

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.

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

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The brownouts have also increased reliance on mutual aid in recent years from surrounding communities.

In 2017, the city provided mutual aid at the same rate it received it, records show. The next year, West Carrollton got help 24 more times than it provided. In 2019, the city got mutual aid 13 more times than it gave, records show.

“Obviously if we have a station that’s browned out we’re going to rely on mutual aid more than others,” Barnett said.

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