Future of fire service lies with voters in Bath

BATH TOWNSHIP — Bath Township Fire Union President Jared Jenkins says budget cuts are endangering residents and firefighters as the department now “routinely” responds to emergency calls understaffed.

The fire department has eliminated three full-time firefighter-paramedic positions and reduced part-time staffing hours by 75% since voters here narrowly rejected a 2.5-mill levy increase for fire protection last November.

Jenkins said that in the last month alone, firefighters were initially unable to respond to two structure fires in Bath Township because they were out on other emergency calls.

“These staffing cuts put both the firefighters and residents at greater risk,” he said.

The 2.5-mill levy increase will come before voters again on March 19 alongside a separate 1-mill levy increase for the township roads department.

Those levy increases would generate an estimated $746,000 in new revenue for the fire department and $300,000 for the roads department if approved, which would cost taxpayers an additional $88 for each $100,000 in assessed value and $35 for every $100,000 respectively.

This is the first levy increase the fire department has asked for in 20 years.

Voters rejected the additional levy by a narrow 43-vote margin in November.

“We don’t disagree that they need money,” said Matthew McPheron, a Bath Township resident leading the campaign to reject both levy increases in March. “We just don’t think we should be the only ones footing the bill.”

The fire department responded to 1,600 calls in 2023, including more than 100 mutual or automatic aid calls from neighboring fire departments that needed assistance.

Neighboring departments assisted Bath Township on 41 mutual aid calls last year.

“There’s a deficit,” McPheron said, adding that Bath Township taxpayers are “essentially subsidizing” smaller fire departments in Monroe and Jackson Townships.

“We think they should pay a little bit more on their property tax,” said McPheron, who suggested the township allow volunteers back onto the force and that trustees pursue more economic development instead of raising property taxes.

The Bath Township Fire Department participates in a mutual aid agreement with other fire departments in Allen County so agencies can call for assistance when they are overwhelmed.

The agreement goes both ways, Jenkins said, but volunteer departments tend to need help more often.

“When someone’s house is on fire and their children are trapped, they want as many firefighters on scene as it takes to save their kids,” Jenkins said. “The citizen doesn’t care if the patch on their shirt says Cairo or Bath. Mutual aid helps put enough firefighters on scene to make sure the citizens and firefighters are safe.”

Jenkins said the fire department transitioned volunteers to paid part-time employees in 2006, and that the union has not prevented the township from bringing volunteers back.

Township Trustee Brad Baxter attributed financial troubles at the fire and road departments to past decisions by township leadership to forgo incremental tax increases.

“You get to a point where you don’t have enough money to support the absolute minimum that you are operating,” he told The Lima News in January.