Rittman Fire Department Wants to Trade Levy in Ohio

For the past 10 years, a capital improvements levy had helped the Rittman Fire Department replenish its equipment. In all, close to $1 million was spent making sure the firefighters had what they needed to fight a fire.

With those purchases under the department's belt, its needs have changed. Now, it isn't capital money that the department lacks. In the days of tight city budgets, the department needs operating cash -- money with which to pay its firefighters for the hours they log, Chief Donald Banfield said.

That's why the department is headed back to the voters in May -- trying to exchange the 1.4-mill capital improvement levy with a 5-year, 1-mill operating levy that earmarks 25 percent of its revenue for capital improvements. A slightly higher version of the levy -- a 1.4-mill twin of what it would be replacing -- failed in November.

If passed, the levy would raise about $97,000 annually. It would cost the owner of a $150,000 home $45.94 annually -- $8.75 more than the 1.4-mill levy it would replace, said Robert Kellogg, city manager.

Banfield said the city is seeing less money filter its way from the state -- money known as the local government fund, which is revenue from the state sales tax -- and that is forcing all the city departments to tighten their belts.

But there isn't a lot of wiggle room for a department made up almost entirely of volunteers -- Banfield is the only full-time employee, earning a whopping $6,200 a year. The 36 firefighters are paid an hourly rate of $8 an hour when they report to a fire, he said.

Banfield is proud of the fact that the department routinely is ranked highly among volunteer forces, and it always gets a great rating for its performance -- a rating that helps insurance companies set the rates they charge residents of a particular community.

He said he understands the difficulty voters face with levies from various organizations -- including a school levy that will be on the same ballot. Fire protection is something that you might not use everyday, but you are glad it is there when you need it, he said.

''If it fails again, we'll have to get something the citizens will approve,'' Banfield said. ''It's just getting tougher and tougher. ''

Distributed by the Associated Press