Challenge issued

Managing Editor
The leaders of police and fire in Wapakoneta came in with simple requests Thursday during a Wapakoneta City Council committee meeting — one will require more work and more money and could require a new tax levy or the safety of city residents could be in jeopardy.
Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock would like video cameras installed at Veterans Memorial Park and the other parks to help combat crime, especially vandalism.
Wapakoneta Fire Chief Kendall Krites would like Health and Safety Committee members to work with him to develop a capital improvement plan for his department which includes plans to purchase a new $1.5 million ladder truck, to expand the existing fire station and to add another relief firefighter.
Councilor-at-large Randy Fisher, who chairs the Health and Safety Committee, said the needs of both departments are real and will require additional meetings and citizen input. While Krites requested an additional firefighter at this meeting, in the past Hunlock also has made his desire for additional police officers known to councilors.
“I think this meeting was the first of what will be many meetings on looking at the staffing needs of the fire department, the building needs of the fire department and the vehicle needs of the fire department as well as the overall needs of the police department,” Fisher said. “Our job as the Health and Safety Committee is to put forward a plan for the health and safety of our community and that is what we are going to do.”
Krites suggested an ad hoc committee comprised of business executives and other residents evaluate every city department to see if there are places for cost savings and for them to decide if a tax levy is needed. If a levy is needed, then they could lead efforts to gain passage.
“I think an ad hoc committee is definitely worth looking into,” Fisher said. “I think councilman Tom Finkelmeier made a very good point that we are living as frugally as possible and I think it is worth looking into where we can go from here so we can continue to provide the citizens of Wapakoneta with the services they have come to expect from their government.”
Fisher said the last tax levy approved by Wapakoneta residents was renewing the 5-year, 1-mill property tax levy for the city’s recreation program. The last new tax levies were the 5-year, 2.5-mill property tax levy for street improvements in April 2004 and a five-year 0.5 percent income tax levy in November 2004. Those two levies failed.
“I wasn’t here when they tried to pass the last two new levies, but it is a different world now,” Fisher said. “I think we have a revenue issue and we have to start having that discussion and it should involve the entire community.
“I also think the residents of Wapakoneta value the fire protection and the police protection they receive and if they were asked to keep them running they would,” he said.
While committee members plan to meet in September with Hunlock, who plans to have estimates on cameras and how to link them to the dispatch center, Fisher realizes the requests by Krites will take more time.
The fire chief presented a report which included immediate, short-term and long-term needs. The immediate needs included a new EMS unit, which has already been ordered.
A second relief firefighter would cost approximately $70,000 to $80,000 per year. The ladder truck he estimates would cost $1.5 million and he did not know how much money it would require to expand the fire station to house the longer, taller fire trucks now being built.
In discussions with Safety-Service Director Bill Rains, expansion of the fire station would require closing one block of West Mechanic Street and razing the Engineering Department building. The fire station would consist of a drive-thru garage for the fire trucks.
“I think for a lot of years we have let our pocketbook dictate our resources and the citizens expect a certain level of protection and they believe that there is a level of protection is there,” Krites said, “but our numbers (fire and EMS runs) have increased so greatly that we don’t have the resources that people sometimes think we have.”
If there are two EMS runs at the same time, Krites explained the fire station is typically manned by call-backs or auxiliary firefighters to cover any fire call in the city, but a few times each year it is empty, which he finds unacceptable.
“I am here to challenge you guys to do something that no other committee, that no other council as long as I have been here for 30 years has been willing to do, and that is to at least make a plan, at least develop a plan,” Krites said. “I want you to look at what the issues are.
“We have to set a threshold of when we can afford it, when can we pull the trigger,” the fire chief said. “Tell me what it will take, give me a number — does our income tax have to generate this, do we have to have this many millions of dollars sitting in an account. What does it take to do this? If we know in reality, this will not happen with our 1 percent income tax rate then we have to do something else to make it happen. I am not asking for this to happen tomorrow, but we can’t keep putting this on the back burner year after year after year.”