MECHANICSBURG – In order to address ongoing concerns over Mechanicsburg Fire and EMS’s aging fleet, the village council is seeking passage of a 5-year, 2.5-mill levy for the replacement of fire and EMS vehicles on the Nov. 3 ballot. If passed, the levy is anticipated to generate yearly revenue of $42,600.
According to the Champaign County Board of Elections, if the levy passes, homeowners would pay 25 cents for each $100 of valuation each year for a five-year period beginning in 2016.
Council member Christian Bradford, serving as levy committee chairman, said Mechanicsburg Fire & EMS serves not only the village, but also the village of Mutual, Union Township, Goshen Township and a portion of Pike Township, all on an annual budget of roughly $375,000.
“The current operating budget has been able to cover minor fleet repairs only and does not have the funding to accommodate major repairs or new equipment,” Bradford said.
Currently, the department has in service a fleet consisting of a tanker, engine, squad, and grass truck, all of which were manufactured in the early to mid-1990s.
The lone exception to the aging fleet, Bradford said, is a 2014 fire rescue truck.
“The village was fortunate to be able to purchase (the rescue) thanks to contributions from Goshen Township as well as a transfer from our own general fund,” he said, adding the money in the general fund was available at the time of the purchase due to a one-time tax payment from the state, which is no longer available.
The need to seek additional tax dollars for the replacement of fire and EMS vehicles became a topic of discussion for council earlier this year after the department’s 1999 Ford squad was forced out of commission in January due to engine and wiring issues. Council looked into fixing the vehicle, but in the end decided against such a measure.
“Cost estimates to repair it exceeded the value of the vehicle,” Bradford said. “The unit’s annual repair costs had been rising over the past three years and reached a point where it needed to be removed from use.”
Since January, the department has been operating with just one squad – a 1995 International.
To complicate matters, the International squad has been out of service on several occasions for various reasons, which has forced the department to borrow loaner squads at different times from the Madison County Emergency Medical District and the Urbana Fire Division.
In July, a month after council passed a resolution placing the levy on the ballot, the department was awarded $143,524 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program to be used for vehicle acquisition.
“The goal is to put the grant funds toward a new medic (squad), but we still need the levy, considering a new medic costs around $200,000,” Fire Chief Bob Keene said. “The grant is a good start, but with an aging fleet, we need the levy.”
Bradford added in order to use the grant for vehicle acquisition, the village is required to provided a percentage match of approximately $7,500.
“Without the passage of the levy for the replacement of emergency vehicles, it would be necessary to determine if general funds should be used to match the grant money or more than likely the grant money might need to be forfeited,” he said. “The village’s general funds are raised through a 1 percent income tax and a very small property tax. It would be hard to imagine the general operating budget of the village being able to contribute substantially to the fire and EMS department.”
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.