Fire tax added to Nov. ballot

Kristen Kotz

Increased demands and high fuel costs have put a strain on fire department

More calls and increased operating costs at the Brimfield Fire Department have resulted in a 1-mill fire protection tax being put up for voter approval on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The proposed tax would add $224,600 in revenue to the fire department’s $930, 000 budget. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $32 per a year.

Fire Chief Robert Keller said the rising population in Brimfield Township and an increase in the number of area businesses have lead to a 40 percent spike in the number of fire and paramedic calls to the department over the past five years. Keller said the department will get about 1,300 calls this year alone.

“We need to be able to keep up with the times and the call volume,” he said. “We’d just like to have the community support up so that we can keep our staff levels up to respond to all those increased calls.”

While demands on the fire department continue to grow, its budget has remained static.

In addition to this, Keller said the cost of fuel for the fire department has doubled over the past two years.

The fire department appropriated $19,500 for fuel costs this year.

“We’ve had to double our fuel budget this year just to keep the trucks rolling.”

Keller said the call for the fire at the Puritan Plant Aug. 30 lasted almost five days and has also taken a financial toll.

“It was very a complex call – very time consuming and very expensive,” he said. “It cost our department about $43,000 in equipment and labor costs.”

Sahra Vitone, a 26-year-old Brimfield resident, said she understands the effect the Puritan Plant fire had on the department and encourages people to vote for it.

“I know they need more people,” Vitone said. “They just had a really big fire … and you know, it took a long time to put it out. They had to call different fire departments … and I just think it would be a really good idea to pass the levy.”

All of these things have forced Keller to delay replacing one of the department’s fire engines purchased in 1983. The fire department has also reduced the number of firefighter-paramedics on duty from three to two on most shifts and cut the amount of firefighter training by 30 percent.

Keller said that if the tax passes, the fire department will replace the old fire engine and will have three firefighter-paramedics on call at all times. It will also purchase new vehicle extraction equipment.

“In this case, will we be using it to help offset the increase cost of fuel and maintenance for our department,” Keller said. “Our last operating levy we were able to pass was four years ago. Since that time, we have not had any new money and, as with everybody, expenses are going up.”

If the tax does not pass, Keller said the old fire engine will not be replaced and the department will reduce training more than it already has.

Jole Cole, a 21-year-old Brimfield resident, also supports the fire tax.

“I think it’s important because they need new equipment to fight fires … so you should go vote,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s that much more money, so we can afford that.”

Several other calls for increased fire taxes are on the ballot across Portage County. Residents of Brady Lake will vote on the renewal of a 2.2-mil fire levy while those in Atwater Township will vote on a 2.9-mil replacement fire levy. In Charlestown Township, the renewal of a 1.5-mil fire levy is on the ballot. A renewal of the 2.99-mil levy for ambulance and emergency medical services for the Mantua-Shalersville Fire District is also on the ballot.

Contact public affairs reporter Kristen Kotz at [email protected].Additional reporting by Jenelle Maddox.