The Bethel Township Fire Department gathers around their chief as he lays out plans to contain the gas leaks after the May 25 tornado in Park Layne. Andy Grimm | Photo

At the Bethel Township’s trustee meeting this Tuesday, the trustees passed a resolution that proposed a new fire levy on the upcoming election ballot. The levy would need to be approved at the next meeting as well as next election cycle in order to pass, and it would cover the next five years in the Bethel Fire department’s fiscal plan. This resolution will allow the fire levy to be placed on the ballot, but it will still allow them time to backtrack on the levy if the public reacts unfavorably to news of the levy. Despite this, it was heavily emphasized by Fire Chief Jacob King that this new fire levy has the potential to make or break the department’s ability to function as-is. 

This new levy will be the fire department’s first request for funding from the community since 2002. Requirements for fire gear and fire trucks have increased significantly over the last fifteen years, according to King, making the increase in the department finances a necessity. King commented that the fire department has been maintained largely due to Bethel’s volunteer firefighters who make the late night runs throughout the department. Since the fire department’s last motion for a levy back in 2002, the annual average for EMS and fire runs has risen from 890 per year to above 2,000 per year as of 2015. There have been 1,060 emergency calls made since the beginning of 2017 alone, imploring the necessity of the fire department’s functionality more than ever.

Bethel Township has difficulty paying firefighters and EMS due to the current millage that the Bethel fire department receives. This is the issue with the fire levy, because it will be allocating community funds into the fire department, but the township itself will not receive any of the funds from the levy. These mills themselves are fixed rates independent of each other in the department, and so the money drawn into the department by each mill is relative to the year it was passed in, with no adjustment for inflation. So whereas this will take the Bethel fire department’s levy funds from 5 mills of the township’s taxes to 7 mills, the original levies which the fire department functions off of have never been adjusted for inflation rates , and so the funding received by the department through these other levies have been, to quote the trustees, “frozen in time”. What this means is that the current rate of funding from the other mills is not enough to cover the departments expenses, but the proposed mills from the new levy would be at a higher rate than the others, ensuring the necessary funding for the department. The trustees estimated that, to raise this millage up from 5 to 7 mills towards the fire department’s funding, it would cost the average citizen, living in a $100,000 property, roughly 19 cents per day in order to properly fund the fire department via a levy.

Due to the significance that the levy would hold for Bethel’s fire department, the board expressed desire for as much public discussion on the matter as possible, and especially on any concerns that the community may have regarding the levy. Specifically, King and the Bethel Trustees hoped to see many residents turn out in the next trustee meeting on July 11th at 7:00 p.m. in the Bethel Fire building. If you have any concerns about the upcoming fire levy, and you’re a Bethel resident, the trustees as well as the fire department request that you express your opinion to them by or on July 11th in order to decide if the levy should go on the upcoming ballot.

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