NEWBURY — The fire department is looking to place a 5.5-mill levy on the Nov. 2 ballot this fall for the potential expansion and renovation of their fire station and increased staffing.
The total cost for the expansion is estimated to cost between $3.6 million and $4.2 million with an annual 20-year debt obligation, according to the department’s proposal to the trustees. Annual personnel and operational support is estimated to cost about $850,000.
The Newbury Volunteer Fire Department is an all-volunteer organization, but with the potential expansion, the department is looking to accommodate 24/7 coverage of the community with part-time firefighters.
Fire Chief Ken Fagan of the department, along with Lt. Jeremy Sustar, a corporation trustee, and firefighter Bill Meyers, corporation vice president, provided an updated proposal to the township trustees in a special meeting last week on current preliminary plans for the station’s expansion and renovation and staffing needs.
With them, the firefighters also brought project representatives from SD Architecture, who walked the trustees through the proposed speculations of the expansion and renovation. The expansion would be a 7,125-square-foot attachment to the east of the existing structure in place of a current parking lot.
The project includes six dorms, additional and renovated restrooms, a combined kitchen and dining area, a decontamination room, conference room, various administrative offices for the chief, EMS, fire prevention and treasurer, as well as areas for training, community engagement and educational outreach.
The station would also be brought up to current standards, Chief Fagan said during the June 30 meeting, noting the station was built to standards from about 30 years ago when they moved into it in the 1990s.
Chief Fagan explained in an interview with the Times that the improvements to the structure are meant to last at least 30 years into the future, noting they may not use all six dorms or offices right away, but as the department also expands, those new facilities will be ready for them to grow into.
The current fire station, located on Kinsman Road, is an 11,700-square-foot building, according to the department website, and includes offices, a kitchen/meeting/training room, a locker/gear room and a dispatch radio room. The station’s apparatus bay houses two life support rescue squads, a pumper/rescue truck, a pumper/tanker truck, a 75-foot aerial ladder, a 1-ton first responders/grass unit, a 6x6 Polaris Ranger and a rescue boat.
Architectural representatives said the approximate $4 million price range on the expansion and renovations would be the guaranteed maximum price. The project includes a 13-percent contingency for any unexpected costs at about $370,000, they said, which if not needed, could result in a lower final cost. They added that as the supply chain recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, material costs may settle back down by the time construction would start.
As for staffing needs, retail chains and grocery stores aren’t the only entities facing shortages right now.
Chief Fagan said the department is facing an increase in call volume with staffing down.
“Calls are increasing every year,” he told the Times. “More and more we’re getting double and triple calls. Sometimes we have three or four at a time.” In 2020, double and triple calls made up about 11 percent of total calls, he said.
There are currently 11 members of the all-volunteer department covering over 25 square miles and about 6,000 residents. The department is not currently staffed at the fire station and members respond to the station upon receiving notification from dispatch, according to their website. As of the June 30 meeting, the department had responded to 281 calls so far this year. In 2020, they responded to 625 calls.
The goal is to have three firefighters on duty for 24-hour shifts at the station and to cut response times by more than half, Chief Fagan said, explaining that currently, the volunteer department averages about three people per call with an average response time of about 10 minutes due to the fact that they are not staffed in-station.
He said the department hasn’t gotten into the “nitty gritty” for exact pay levels per positions, like the difference between an advanced EMT or advanced paramedic or exact benefits, but would have that information for the trustees when ready. He said the department has explored wages from different fire departments throughout Geauga County, looking at between $9 and $22 per hour for part-time firefighters.
Chief Fagan explained that to make the updates and recruitment of new firefighters possible, the department would need to put a combined 5.5-mill levy on the ballot this fall. This would include 4.5 mills for operation and personnel costs and 1 mill for the debt obligation of the station upgrade, which would be a 20-year loan.
He said the fire department hasn’t come to the township for a levy in 67 years. The department currently operates off 1.6 mills with an annual budget of $300,000.
Beverly Sustar said during the meeting that under the Ohio Revised Code, the township could put out the combined levy of 4.5 mills for operating and staffing and 1 mill for the building project’s debt responsibility. Upon paying off the debt of the project, that 1 mill would fall off and reduce the levy to a 4.5 mill operational levy.
At 98-percent collection, she said 4.5 mills would generate about $853,000 and 1 mill would generate about $190,000.
The deadline to get a levy on the November ballot through the board of elections is Aug. 6, Ms. Sustar explained. Before this, however, the trustees will need to pass two forms of legislation, first sending the proposed levy to the Geauga Auditor’s Office for certification of property tax, then to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The trustees tabled the levy and decided to vote on it during their next meeting, which was to take place July 7. Ms. Sustar said that would be when the trustees would want to make their decision if they choose to approve the levy for the Nov. 2 ballot to stay on track with the election board’s deadlines.