Editor's note: This story has been updated to highlight the potential tax increase is expected to be requested at the time of existing millage renewal.
Chesterfield Township taxpayers may vote on whether to approve a millage increase for the fire department in the near future.
Faced with declining property values resulting in smaller collections on the existing taxes, the department wants to seek more funding on a ballot proposal by early 2013, Fire Chief Doug Charbonneau said.
"It's probably going to have to be increased," Charbonneau said of the existing fire millage.
A vote to increase the fire fund millage is expected to take place when the current millage is up for renewal. In these early stages, it has not been determined how much would be sought if the proposal to raise taxes does, in fact, get authorized for ballot placement.
Fire fund collects for operations, equipment
Residents who own houses with a market value of $120,000 or a taxable value of $60,000 pay $140.85 annually for the fire department, according to township Finance Director Victoria Bauer.
That money is collected under the approximate two mills for operations and half mill for equipment—which currently come to about 1.9 mills and .46 mills, respectively, because of declining home values, Charbonneau said.
"As property values go down, our collections go down right with it," he said.
For example, the operational tax alone brought in $3 million in 2011, but that tax is expected to bring in $2.8 million this year, $2.5 million in 2013 and $2.4 million in 2014, according to departmental budget reports.
In 2008, voters approved an additional half mill for the department, bringing in an extra $900,000. That was the first time the department received more tax funding since the initial millage was set in 1992—well before a population influx, the chief said.
Since 2007, the fire department has been operating with less manpower. It went from 30 full-time firefighters, including the fire chief, deputy chief, inspector and 27 firefighters, as well as about a dozen paid-on-call firefighters.
Today, the full-time employees are the fire chief, his secretary and 19 firefighters of various ranks and there are nine paid-on-call firefighters, Charbonneau said.
In the past year, Chesterfield fire has gone on about 3,000 runs, with firefighters from other communities assisting on larger blazes. However, the township cannot rely on outside departments, many of which are short-staffed themselves, to help all the time, he said.
"They're not going to subsidize our shortages," he said.
Coping with hard economic times
Despite financial difficulties, the department is currently seeking 15 paid-on-call firefighters through an outside agency that recommends candidates for free, according to the chief.
Paid-on-call firefighters frequently prevent full-time firefighters from running into costly overtime. They make $12 an hour for training and $15 an hour for shift work during their first year. The regular pay then becomes $17.81 an hour for training or shift work and then $26.72 an hour for actual fire-fighting work, he said.
Additionally, the department received a grant for fire gear like helmets, coats, pants and gloves. The fire department will match 10 percent of that $42,000 grant.
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