Several townships agreed to pay $20,000 for a study that would help determine whether it’s more efficient to create a new fire district or to continue with contracts for fire service that are already in place.
The study approved Wednesday became a priority after rates for fire and emergency medical services spiked throughout much of the Champaign County in the last two years, said Lewis Terry, an Urbana Twp. trustee.
The study, conducted with the assistance of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association, does not necessarily mean the townships will go ahead with forming a new district. But it will help them evaluate how services, as well as costs for residents, might be affected if a new district is formed. It would also help make comparisons with the contracts that are currently in place.
If formed, the new district would cover all of Goshen, Union and Urbana townships, as well as the southern end of Salem Twp. and the village of Mechanicsburg.
“That’s going to give us the ability to make an informed decision,” said Tim Cassady, Goshen Twp. trustee.
In Urbana Twp., for example, the township paid about $67,000 for service from the city of Urbana in 2010, but the rate increased to $151,000 in 2012.
Urbana city officials have said the rate increase was necessary because of budget constraints. City officials have said the townships previously paid for fire protection but were receiving EMS service for free. As the economy worsened, that was no longer possible.
Once the contract to approve the study is signed, it will take between 90 and 120 days to complete, said Stan Crosley, of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association. The study will include likely costs to create a new district, response times, and whether it might be necessary to purchase new equipment, among other items. It would also allow township officials to compare the cost of running a new district to the contracts currently in place.
However, even if the townships decide to form a new fire district, it will be up to voters to decide whether to pay for a new district or to continue with the system that is already in place.
“What we can’t measure is customer satisfaction with what you’re currently providing versus something that would be new and different,” Crosley said.
But Cassady said the study will allow trustees to present the best information available to voters and let them decide.
“I don’t think your study is going to be a magic wand, it’s just going to be a tool,” Cassady said.
The city of Urbana will not be involved in the study but will cooperate and provide any information that’s requested, said Mark Keller, chief of the Urbana Fire Division.
In Urbana Twp., the trustees will be open-minded since it’s not clear which arrangement voters will prefer, Terry said.
“We want it to be a community decision, not a trustees decision,” Terry said.