The Berkshire, Sunbury, Trenton and Galena Fire District (B.S.T.G.) has placed a 4.85-mill tax levy on the May 2 election ballot. The district is asking voters to renew the current 3-mill tax, expiring at the end of 2017, with an additional 1.85-mill increase, to raise $2.4 million annually for district operations.
The five-year levy, if passed by voters, would cost a homeowner $149 per year for a property valuation of $100,000 beginning in 2018.
According to Chief Jeff Wilson, the county auditor’s office said the additional millage would cost the residents within the district, based on a $100,000 home value, an additional $64.75 annually.
Wilson said the district serves a 52-square-mile area of two townships and two villages where the median value of a home is $256,000. Currently the district is seeing a surge in housing and commercial developments.
Since the last levy passed in 2011, Wilson said the district has put money aside to take care of trucks, for replacement of equipment and to remodel the station.
“Everything we’re paying for is cash out of pocket,” Wilson said. “We’re not borrowing any money, it’s all planned for. That was one of the things we had to impress on our board. It looks high, but for the first couple of years you’re just going to bank money to help pay for the last five-years.
Wilson said the district wanted a two- to three-year levy but the board would have liked one for five or 10 years. With the area’s rate of growth predicting the district’s cost in 10 years would be hard.
“That’s a long time, especially in a high growth area to predict where we’re going,” he said. “One of the things I think looks terrible is when we’re supposed be fiscally responsible and planning for the future and we screw it up by not getting it right.”
Kevin Kline, deputy chief, said the levy will be used to replace equipment and add staff for two fully-manned rescue trucks.
“Our fire response runs have gone up a little bit,” he said. “We’re trying to get two rescue trucks out to care for our district so we take care of our own and won’t need to call mutual aid.”
Mutual aid is an agreement between first responders to lend assistance to other jurisdictions.
Kline said the district is also losing a lot of good firefighters by using part-timers because they are hired to full-time positions elsewhere.
“That hurts us,” he said. “We’re a training ground for central Ohio. We train them and they leave. We need to make sure there is a full-time position for them to seek.”
“If it were just the Village of Sunbury we wouldn’t be full-time,” Wilson said. “But when you cover 52 square miles …”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.