Monday, October 22, 2001

Levies priority for fire, police

Agencies hope voters agree to need for funds

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's the little things that give West Chester Police Chief John Bruce more confidence residents will pass a police levy in November. And there are a lot of little things.

Forest Park Fire Chief Trish Brooks helps hang a flag from the front of Quint 42.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        The thank-you cards and letters.

        Tins of homemade cookies.

        Since Sept. 11, when more than 300 police officers and firefighters perished in the World Trade Center, local residents have expressed a greater appreciation for their safety workers. Police and fire departments hope the gratitude translates to the ballot and approval of new taxes to pay for expanded services and equipment.

        The departments don't want to profit from the disaster, said Chief Bruce.

        “But you hope it's made people aware of the dangers and the need to be prepared,” he said. “We have to be prepared not only for what we do every day, but what we may have to do.”

Voters in Hamilton and Butler counties can find out exactly how the proposed levies will affect taxes on their homes online at or
        Police and firefighter appreciation days at churches.

        Considering the shaky economy, residents face a difficult choice. Voters must decide whether they can afford to support their rescue workers — or, in light of the past two months, if they can afford not to.

        The situation forces people to “focus on core values and what's really important,” said Mike Hinnenkamp, administrator of Springfield Township, which has police and fire levies on the ballot. “Maybe we can't afford that new car, but I want my family and our homes and properties secure, and (approving the levies) is the way to do that.”

        Police and fire levies traditionally have more support than other new tax proposals, said Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University. Voters tend to respect the uniform and understand the need for the services.

        But passage of police and fire levies “are not a given,” he said. “Part of the question is, "Will people translate what happened in New York and the fear in their own lives to supporting their local rescue departments?'”

        At the least, the terrorist attacks have made it easier to get voters' attention on the subject, he said. But the tug of an uncertain economy could shift the balance against the levies.

        Forest Park Fire Chief Trish Brooks understands the dilemma facing voters. She feels the financial pull, too.

        That's why Chief Brooks is working late nights to tell people how important the levy is.

        “I'm not looking for frills,” she said. “I'm looking for solid protection for this community.”

        The proposed levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $139 a year. In return, Chief Brooks said, residents would receive stepped-up service, eventually increasing the number of people on duty from seven to 12. There also would be money to replace the 50-year-old tornado sirens.

        “We've been pasting them back together again,” Chief Brooks said. “But there is no guarantee they'll actually work when they're needed.”

        For each of the dozen Greater Cincinnati communities with new police or fire levies on the ballot, the additional money would fill a laundry list of needs.

        In the village of New Miami, the levy is the difference between a single full-time police officer and around-the-clock surveillance by paid staff, Chief Duane Pelfry said.

        The Central Joint Fire/EMS District serving Batavia would use the taxes to establish paramedic services. Without the levy in the village of Morrow, daytime coverage by paid firefighters would cease.

        Although there's been a surprising uptick in consumer confidence levels since the attacks, ultimately the decision of whether people will financially support their police and fire departments hinges on individual voters, such as Jerome Bolar.

        People should always support their emergency workers, said Mr. Bolar, 50 of Springfield Township.

        “But my finances right now are kind of shaky,” he said. “I'll have to sit down with my family and see what we can afford.”


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