Support for a round-the-clock, paid emergency medical squad at the Reno Volunteer Fire Department will be in the hands of Marietta Township voters during the March 6 primary election, according to a public informational session at the Marietta Township Recreation Center Tuesday night.
"We just want to be upfront with this. It's up to you-just vote your conscience is all we can say," fire captain Jeremy Patterson told the audience of 20 residents who attended Tuesday's meeting.
He said 16 years ago the Reno community was among the first in the area to support a levy to hire full-time EMTs for the volunteer fire department during business hours on weekdays.
A 1-mill levy, which translates to $28.26 in property taxes annually for a Marietta Township owner of a home valued at $100,000, is currently supporting the squad.
But that levy expires in March, and the department is now asking the community to renew it for five years with an additional 2.25-mills that would provide enough revenue to pay a full-time, 24/7 EMS squad.
The levy increase would represent $71.26 in annual property taxes for a homeowner whose house is valued at $100,000.
At a glance
About the proposed five-year replacement levy to support the Reno Volunteer Fire Department rescue squad:
- Adds 2.25 mills to the current 1 mill levy that expires in March.
- Increases average annual property tax on a $100,000 home in Marietta Township by $71.26 or $5.94 per month.
- Added to the current 1 mill levy, homeowners would pay a total annual average of $99.52 in property taxes on a $100,000 home.
- The levy increase, which will appear on the March 6 primary election ballot, will be used to fund a 24/7 paid emergency medical technician squad for the Reno Volunteer Fire Department.
"The driving force behind the levy is concerns about a lack of manpower during morning and early afternoon hours, when most of the department's members are working and unavailable to respond to emergencies," Patterson read from a letter the squad has distributed to the community.
He said efforts to recruit new volunteer EMTs have been a struggle and the department currently has eight volunteer EMTs, six of whom have jobs with rotating shifts, or work evenings or weekends, limiting the number of volunteers who can serve the community when emergencies arise.
Township trustee Dan Ritchey said the department has advertised for EMTs and sought retirees to serve but many are put off by the 130 hours of training required by the state.
"And the training costs us $900 for each EMT," he said. "Some will take the training, then, after their first run, decide they don't want to serve, and we're out $900."
Patterson added that the population of Marietta Township is continuing to grow.
"We have the third largest populated community in the county, just behind Marietta and Belpre," he said. "And we're averaging 437 ambulance runs a year."
Township resident Gary Hutchinson said he understands the need for a squad, but he had some concerns.
"I love the fire department and the squad-we really need them, but it comes down to being able to afford this levy," he said. "There are a lot of older people who live in this area that can't afford to pay $71.26."
Hutchinson said most residents are already paying on levies for other services.
He also noted the Reno squad obtains revenue through third party billing when a patient is transported.
Ritchey explained the third party billing is a "soft billing" procedure that bills a patient's insurance company or Medicare. But if a patient has no insurance, he or she is not billed for the service.
The department made $46,998 from third party billing in 2011.
"I can't see the squad having third party billing and a $71.26 levy. I don't think that's fair," said resident Fairley Bowens.
"The third party billing I don't like," he told Ritchey. "If you're going to keep that and ask for the levy, I'll say no."
Ted Patterson, a squad member, noted that without the local department, a private ambulance service would likely charge $800 to $1,500 for a run, and the patient would have to pay the bill whether they had insurance or not.
Resident Jean Eshelman had no qualms about supporting the levy.
"If I'm in pain and the squad comes, I'll give them my house to get me to the hospital," she said. "What can we do to get the word out on this levy?"
Jeremy Patterson encouraged everyone who attended Tuesday's meeting to talk to their neighbors and friends about the issue.
Ritchey said another meeting would also be scheduled sometime before the March primary.