LEWISBURG — Residents of the Village of Lewisburg will be voting on Issue 21 on Nov. 5. The issue is a 3.8-mill replacement General Operation levy village council has pledged to the Fire and EMS Department. According to Fire Chief BJ Sewert, these additional funds will be used primarily for personnel and apparatus.
Lewisburg Village Council has held several work sessions over the last year and a half to develop a strategic plan for the community. Several needs were identified, discussed, and prioritized in order of importance for the citizens of Lewisburg.
“Village Council, administration, and I have proactively spent the past two years being intentional about the future of Lewisburg by holding Strategic Planning Sessions where safety was identified as our number one priority. Regular meetings were held with The Lewisburg Safety Department where it was agreed that proper staffing, equipment, and training are most important,” Mayor Marsha Jones said.
Since the beginning of 2019, the Village Council Safety Committee has met to discuss how the Fire and EMS Department can continue the current level of service to meet the expectations of village residents. Currently, the department’s two biggest needs are in the area of personnel and equipment, especially apparatus.
“We need to move forward with personnel and equipment. The Fire and EMS Department stood out with the most need,” Village Manager Jeff Sewert said. “Personnel and equipment was part of the strategic plan.”
Chief BJ Sewert added, “I think our citizens have expectations in regards to what they expect from our department. We, as a village, want to keep that trust that we’ve gained from them. I think this is one way that will help us keep progressing through additional personnel, update the equipment, and train our employees. I think we need this extra money to continue what we’ve been doing and even find some things we can do to better serve the citizens.”
The number of volunteers for Fire and EMS has greatly decreased nationwide. Lewisburg is experiencing the same problem. This necessitates additional funds to hire more part-time employees. Some of the equipment, in spite of the department’s care and attention, also periodically needs replaced.
“We still have a good core of volunteers, but there are times we need to supplement the volunteers with additional part-time personnel,” Chief BJ Sewert said. “Volunteerism, whether in the Fire Department or with local sports, it’s not there anymore. I think that is the number one reason we are requesting more part-time personnel.
“The Fire and EMS, at this particular time, has some critical needs we need to pursue. The apparatus was another thing that made the Fire and EMS Department stand out [with need]. We have three fire engines right now: one is 30 years old, one is 25 years old, and one will be 20 years old after the first of the year. I think that is another issue on top of the personnel. The last time we bought a fire truck in 2000 it cost $255,000. Right now, we’re looking at close to $500,000. That is a pretty good justification for the [replacement levy].”
In order to secure these needs, it was decided to place the 3.8 mill General Operations Replacement Levy on the Nov. 5 ballot for consideration by village citizens. If it passes, this levy will replace the one which has been in existence since 1980 and is currently calculated on property valuations from 39 years ago.
“We were operating on 1980 dollars. Council felt it was time to make this replacement levy. We were utilizing 1980 dollars in 2019. Council thought it was time [to put a replacement on the ballot], because they felt safety was the number on priority of our citizens,” Jeff Sewert said.
The Replacement Levy will be based on current property values. For example, the tax on a $100,000 home will cost an additional $7.92 per month.
The Fire and EMS Department has been assured by Village Council that with the passage of the replacement levy, the additional monies generated will be directed to the Fire and EMS department to meet current and future needs.
“As I am sitting in this position as Village Manager I can guarantee you that these additional funds will be used for the Fire and EMS Department. It will be in the budget each and every year,” Jeff Sewert said. “This is our number one priority.”
Chief BJ Sewert added, “With that said, this is a General Operation levy. These funds can be used for whatever, including street lighting and street paving. I want to make that perfectly clear. This money is not only for the Fire and EMS Department.”
“We have tagged these monies for safety. In our General Fund, 80 percent of our dollars go towards safety throughout the board,” Jeff Sewert said. “The additional monies — the $7.92 — will be pledged to the Fire and EMS Department. That is a given.”
Through the years, the department has been fortunate to have the ongoing support of their citizens, for which they are thankful and appreciative.
“The citizens of this community and businesses both have supported our Fire and EMS 100 percent,” Jeff Sewert said. “One of the needs of this additional money is to continue and provide the levy of service they come to expect at the end of the day. Sitting in this position, there is no department that is more frugal with their dollars and budget than the Fire and EMS Department.
Mayor Jones added, “The purpose for requesting a Replacement Levy is to continue providing the same high level of Fire Suppression and Emergency Medical Service to our community. Staffing during low volunteer availability times and equipment life cycling are essential. The Village would not be able to offer the quality of life sought in towns the size of Lewisburg in 2019 and the future using 1980’s property value for tax valuation.
“Lewisburg is rightfully proud of our Safety Department and strives to provide them with resources to continue delivering the same quality of service and to return home safely. Thanks to Chief Sewert and members of Lewisburg Fire and Emergency Unit for being there when called upon 24 hours a day/365 days a year.”
“We wouldn’t be asking the residents to vote on Issue 21 if we didn’t think there was a need,” Jeff Sewert said.
Anyone with questions is urged to contact Chief BJ Sewert at 937-962-4640.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH