Howland to seek levy for fire department

HOWLAND — Township trustees have taken the initial step to place a 2.25-mill fire levy on the November ballot that trustees say will help the department beef up its budget.

Trustees on Wednesday voted 2-0 to have the county auditor certify the exact millage needed to raise $938,000 annually. Trustees Jim Lapolla and Rick Clark passed the first reading. Trustee Matt Vansuch was absent.

A special meeting will be held soon to give the needed second reading once the millage is certified. The deadline to get the issue on the November ballot is Aug. 7.

Fire Chief Jim Pantalone said the fire department budget this year was rapidly approaching “ground zero” with the department doing what it can to maintain services and equipment. He said the department has seen a loss of $300,000 from the tangible personal property tax and also a decrease in millage and property valuation.

“The department has been seeing a rising annual call volume. For nearly a decade, we have been the busiest fire department in the county, averaging above 27 percent in call volume to the next department. Our firefighters and medics are stretched very thin with the multiple calls we receive, making it hard to cover all the calls so we have to bring in mutual aid. We have an increasing call volume and a decreasing budget,” Pantalone said.

He said in the last three years, call volume has increased 12 percent, noting a 300-call volume increase throughout the township in the past year compared to 2017. Pantalone said the Bolindale area, which has a station staffed during certain hours, has seen an 88 percent increase in call volume the past three years.

Pantalone said the levy funds will help the department purchase a fourth ambulance to handle increased call volume, increase staff at the Bolindale station to handle more calls there and maintain the service currently provided.

“Passage of the levy will get us to where we need to be with the loss of funds and balance things out,” he said.

Pantalone said if the levy passes, the owner of $100,000 home would pay $86.36 per year.

“Howland today is an aging community and not the community we were 40 years ago. We have Shepherd of the Valley facility here,” he said.

Township Administrator Darlene St. George said Howland is a very busy township.

“It is important to maintain the quality of service,” she said.

St. George said the Bolindale station was closed for almost 12 years and it is now open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“Money has been taken away from local government. We have not gone to the taxpayers unless it is a necessity,” she said.

Resident Ed Palumbo said there should be more public input on the levy before a final decision is made. Lapolla said residents may comment at the special meeting.