CIRCLEVILLE — The City of Circleville has placed on the ballot an income tax levy to support the city’s fire and police departments.
The half percent increase will cost a person about $50 additional tax dollars per $10,000 earned per year. The increase has a five-year sunset period, meaning it will come off the books after those five years unless voters approve a renewal levy.
All .5 percent goes into a fund dedicated for the needs of the fire department and the police department and cannot be spent elsewhere by law. As part of the ordinance, if passed, current levels of general fund money are required to be maintained until the levy expires.
“This levy is all about getting people back into the positions we need them to as set by ordinance,” Tony Chamberlain, Circleville Safety Director, said. “Those ordinances have been in place for years and there’s certainly not any less of a need for those positions, in fact there’s more of a need now than there was then.”
Chamberlain said according to FBI standards, Circleville would be at full capacity with 33 full time officers, and the National Fire Protection Agency recommends 21.5 full time firefighters.
“Our ordinances are all set lower than that, obviously,” Chamberlain said.
According to the city, per ordinances, the city can have 18 full time firefighters including three captains, three lieutenants and 25 police officers including four sergeants set by ordinance. Neither number includes the chief’s position.
Currently the police department has 12 full time officers including the four sergeants and the fire department has 15 firefighters including two captains and three lieutenants.
Circleville Police Chief Shawn Baer said there are three things they hear about the most about the levy including length, how the money can be spent and if the department’s general fund budget will change.
“We want people to know that we keep the general fund money, it’s written into the ordinance,” he said. “The other is that we get all of the levy money, sometimes there’s a piece that goes elsewhere. The other thing is that if people don’t think we use the money well, it’s over in five years. We’ve really had to educate people on that.”
Circleville Fire Department Chief Brian Thompson said they’ve heard some of the same things, with the addition that the levy came from the unions, not from the city.
“This was a conglomeration with Chamberlain spearheading this to bring it to the unions to get their support,” Thompson commented. “That’s what we were tasked with when it was brought up by Councilman [Barry] Keller, to bring them something the unions support. This was the administration going to the unions to do this for them.”
“In no way shape or form did the unions cram this on us,” he continued. “We took it to them to get their buy-in which is rare to get two different unions to bite on the same thing and know their opinions are valued in what we’re doing here.”
Thompson said both departments’ employees are working an “excessive” amount of overtime and they’re understaffed.
“Fatigue causes injuries, it causes issues with morale not only at work but at home,” Thompson added. “We’re trying to get our numbers up to where they were by ordinance so we can take care of our employees. We want these people to be safe, have a safe working environment and to be able to go home and spend time with their families.”
Representatives of the campaign, including fire and police personnel knocked on doors this past weekend to talk to voters about the levy, something they’ll do again the Saturday ahead of the election. Circleville leadership sat down with The Circleville Herald to talk about the levy and why they feel it’s necessary.
Chamberlain said they’ve already started working on 2020 budget and they don’t want to reduce services any more.
“We’re getting at the point where it’s a make or breath thing,” he said. “In August it was for the Fire Department and we had to make a change. Nobody wanted to but unfortunately it was something we had to do. We’re being extremely careful with a watchful eye of our payroll to stay within the line this year. It’s going to be tight and we know that.”
Voting will take place n Nov. 5. For more information on voting contact the Pickaway County Board of Elections at 740-474-1100.