Council considering EMS levy

City council will decide later in July whether or not to replace the current EMS levy from the early ‘90s with a new levy to recapture original millage lost to inflation, population increase.

NORTH ROYALTON – Rising costs, a growing population and dwindling state aid have city council debating the first-ever increase this November to the EMS levy that’s been on the books since 1993.

The original intent of this levy was to hire additional firefighters to implement EMS services. In 1993, there were 22 firemen and just half were certified paramedics.

The station has grown to 30 firemen, all paramedic certified with a range in salary of $55,600-$72,900.

Times have certainly changed, but officials say the problem is the levy has remained the same.

In the late ‘90s, the 1.7-mill levy was generating $660,222 a year to service 23,200 residents. The EMS call volume then was about 1,200 calls annually.

Today, the population has grown to 30,300 with a call volume more than double at 3,000. To make matters worse city leaders said, state aid has decreased by $1.2 million annually.

So, for the fire department, the cost of doing business and the population have all grown; however, residents are paying less than they were originally for the levy, though it still collects roughly the same amount, about $120,000 more than in ‘98. Officials say this forces the subsidization of EMS service from the general fund, about $1.7 million annually. About $3 million total is subsidized for all fire-related expenses, representing 20 percent of the general fund.

Council members have been weighing all this, and the consensus to address the issue is to remove the old 1.7-mill issue off the books, which costs the owner of a $200,000 home approximately $5.15 per month, and replace it with a new 1.7-mill levy that at today’s costs would increase that monthly total by approximately $4.76 and generate an additional $630,000 annually for the department.

The city would share in the responsibility, still subsidizing around $1 million for the levy alone each year. The current levy was last renewed in 2013. The new levy would be a five-year levy beginning in 2017.

Legislation is expected to be introduced at the July 5 council meeting with final action taking place July 19.

Everyone seems in agreement this is the right thing to do to maintain the city’s No. 1 services as highlighted recently by Cleveland Magazine.

“I don’t like raising the cost of anything,” Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris said. “But my concerns are that if the levy is not restored to its original intent, services will suffer because of cuts forced upon us by the Kasich administration.”

Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw, vice chair of the safety committee, agreed wholeheartedly, reminding these funds literally save lives.

“I support making sure that our residents, in an emergency, get the best services possible that could literally save their life or that of a loved one,” he said.

Chegan said in today’s dollars, the city is only collecting .88 mills of the original 1.7 mills, despite health care costs and operational costs escalating.

“What we’re trying to do is get back up to the millage that will support the department,” he said. “We’ve kept the rates the same for almost 23 years, but we have grown and gotten busier since then. Everyone’s rate has actually gone down. But we’re at a breaking point with the increase in services.”

Council President Larry Antoskiewicz said the prudent course of action is to go back to the residents for the same 1.7 mills originally voted with the understanding it will restore the true millage so the city can continue to focus on all city services.

“As conservative as we are watching every dollar, at some point it starts to become an issue financially. The state put this on us as their surplus continues to grow,” he said. “We will still be taking on some of the responsibility. We don’t want to overburden residents, and we also don’t want to slow down our momentum on different city programs such as roads, stormwater, etc.”

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