The College Township Fire Department is in fiscal trouble, and the leaders of Gambier’s emergency response station can only hope for a sustainable solution.
According to Chief Bill Smith and Assistant Chief Ashley Thompson, the Fire Department’s budgetary reserve has dwindled over the last couple of years, which has left the Department’s budget increasingly stretched when it comes to payment for personnel. In turn, the workload for each emergency responder has intensified.
“If we can’t increase revenue, [with] the part-time staffing that we have, we won’t be able to staff two people like we normally do; we’d have to go … back to a volunteer basis aspect,” Smith said. “[Otherwise,] the Township would give up the Fire Department, potentially, and try to have Mount Vernon or Eastern Knox County take it over.”
Monetary instability is already proving worrisome for the Department, and the consequences of a station closure could be dire.
In addition, some students devote a great amount of time to the Department — both for experience and professional training — and if the station closed, or some other department absorbed emergency calls for Gambier, the student program would most certainly be over, according to both chiefs.
These problems have been apparent to the leaders of the department for some time. Back in February, the station organized a “Save Our Station” meeting, and they have been coming up with plans and business proposals since, because, as Thompson says, “we saw it happening.” However, the pandemic derailed any momentum the station had gathered, and forced them to refocus their strategies in a virtual setting, according to Department leadership.
A tax increase would provide just enough funding to maintain the Department until sustainable solutions can be discussed between the Village, the township and Kenyon itself. On the ballot for the November election is a new property tax for owners within the Village of Gambier and the College Township, which is situated within the Village. Properties owned by the College, being educational, would be exempt. However, with many residents in the area living with fixed incomes as retirees, a new levy can feel like an undue burden, Smith said. “They feel like they’re holding the bag, the finances, to fund the department and Kenyon’s not.”
But Smith and Thompson made clear that tax increases are not a permanent solution for the issue at hand.
“[The property tax] still doesn’t generate enough money to have paid staffing, to do all your maintenance requirements for trucks, pumps, all the annual stuff that has to be done on the heart monitors and that type [of] stuff,” Smith explained.
Thompson expressed the most concern for the Department’s employees. “Our biggest issue is we have staff members who get on the ambulance and risk their lives every single time that they’re in it, more so than people who don’t, to save somebody else’s life,” she explained. “If we can’t even give them a safe way to do that, we’re tripling their odds [of them not making it home]. We don’t give them enough manpower, we don’t give them the appropriate equipment, we’re quadrupling their odds of them [not] making it home.”
Kenyon is aware of the Department’s struggles, and College officials want to come to a sustainable solution just as much as both chiefs do. The next Village Council meeting, open to the public, will be on Oct. 5, and, according to Smith, there may potentially be a meeting between the Village, the Township and the College before then.