Property tax hike plan potential fix to fire station brownouts

West Carrollton is expected to put a 3.5-mill emergency services levy on the ballot in March, asking residents to increase property taxes to hire more full-time firefighters. FILE
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West Carrollton is expected to put a 3.5-mill emergency services levy on the ballot in March, asking residents to increase property taxes to hire more full-time firefighters. FILE

The city plans to seek a property tax hike next year to hire more full-time staff to stabilize the fire department, where crew shortages have prompted temporary station closings.

West Carrollton voters can expect in March to be asked to approve a 3.5-mill emergency services levy, City Manager Brad Townsend said.

A property tax hike is the preferred choice of city council members among three options that included an income tax increase and an income tax credit reduction, West Carrollton records show.

The property tax increase is also a concept a slim majority of West Carrollton residents responding to a recent survey said they would be either likely or very likely to support to help fund emergency services.

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Plus, “we just did an income tax increase not long ago,” Townsend said referring to the 0.25-percent increase made permanent by voters two years ago. “So we’re on equal (ground) with our neighbors. And the income tax credit conversation” was short-lived.

A 3.5-mill property tax hike is “the option that would conform to established limits of the survey results while addressing needs in both full-time and part-time staffing needs,” according to city records.

Voter approval of the measure would fund the hiring of four full-time firefighter/paramedics, allow the city to increase part-time salaries by 10 percent and set aside incentive funds for EMTs to attend paramedic school, West Carrollton documents show.

The cost to implement those changes would be about $521,000 annually, roughly $39,000 less than the proposed tax hike would generate, city records show.

The 3.5-mill increase would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $122.50 more a year, city officials said. The survey conducted by Wright State University earlier this year indicated that more than 52 percent of respondents would support a property tax hike in the range of $100 to $125 a year.

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More than 86 percent of those responding to the survey said they owned homes, according to Mike Wiehe, director of the WSU Applied Policy Research Institute.

The city is looking to change its operating model for the fire department, which has been heavily dependent on part-time firefighters. This has led in recent years to retain staff, prompting temporary closures – or brown outs – of services or stations, Fire Chief Chris Barnett has said.

Since September 2018, both Station 56 and 57 have been temporarily closed, but brownouts at Station 56 – most often limited to the medic unit - are more common because it receives fewer calls, city officials have said.

Earlier this year the city took temporary measures, converting two part-time positions with benefits to full time, but questions in the survey were aimed at finding a long-term solution.

When the property tax hike range was increased to $125 to $150 a year, 42 percent said they were likely to support while 49.3 percent said they were unlikely, according to the results.

Townsend said he expects council to vote on a ballot issue by the end of the year.

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