By David Slone
WARSAW — It’s not inexpensive to operate an emergency service such as a fire department, and inflation hasn’t helped.
To help deal with the ongoing and rising costs, the Warsaw Common Council will hear a proposal at their Feb. 20 meeting to increase the levy for the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory (WWFT) to the maximum levy allowed.
Tuesday, Fire Chief Brian Mayo reminded the WWFT Board he sent out an email late last week to put the proposal on their radar.
“Paige (Sansone) from Baker Tilly will be at City Council on the 20th to talk about the ins and outs, specifics, detail, the numbers about a levy increase proposal that we have to get in by March 31 to the DLGF (Department of Local Government Finance) in order for it to take effect in 2025, if it were to go through,” he explained.
The levy increase was attempted in 2023, but it fell past the deadline for various reasons, Mayo said.
Since the inception of the fire territory in 2009, it has never had a levy increase, though it has had at least one decrease.
“So, just keeping up with inflation rates, just keeping up with assessed values, just keeping up with the growth of the city and the territory at a decent time, we really need to get our operating revenue up higher,” Mayo said. “There’s positions that have gone unfilled.”
One position that’s gone unfilled, he said off the top of his head, was that of a training chief or training officer. The position was created and brought up a couple years ago, and there was even a job description for it, but the WWFT has never been able to fill the position because they couldn’t afford it.
“So, there’s a lot of things like that where, as our department needs to progress and grow, we have to be able to add those in. Frankly, our checkbook can’t afford it, so this (proposal) would allow us to do some of those things,” Mayo stated.
Mayor Jeff Grose said, along with the information Sansone presents to the council at their Feb. 20 meeting, because of the timing issue, the council may entertain a first reading of an ordinance to increase the levy.
He said he thought if the levy was pushed to the maximum, that would mean about $1.1 million more for the fire territory.
Earlier in the meeting, Mikaela Bixler, CARES (Community Assistance, Resources, Emergency Services) coordinator, reported they had a total of 86 interactions in January, with 33 of those being with new “consumers” and over 20 of those were focused primarily on helping people access mental health care.
She also talked about the first official Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training they will be doing. She and Warsaw Police Department officer Chris Francis recently became certified CIT coordinators so they can lead the CIT training in Kosciusko County.
“It’s a 40-hour training. We will be starting with law enforcement, probation, community corrections and dispatch staff to get them trained in CIT, and then we will open that up to fire and EMS personnel,” Bixler said.
The training will be primarily for frontline workers on how to respond to mental health crises and ensuring the safety of officers and civilians, as well as anyone else responding to those situations, she said. The training will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 6-10 at the WPD training facility.
Recently, CARES launched caresresources.com. The website offers a comprehensive database of resources in the county. Bixler said they now are working to launch the Spanish version of that website.
Next week, she said she will be training all fire department personnel in QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer), which she was trained in last year to be able to lead the training. QPR is suicide prevention training.
Alicia Mediano, Lutheran EMS director of operations, gave the board her end-of-year report for 2023.
“This month’s report was a little bit longer than you guys have probably seen in the past. I really wanted to give you some data that reflects back on the last couple of years, to kind of give you some comparison in reference to how busy we’ve gotten and continue to kind of grow in our coverage areas,” she said.
By the end of 2023, Lutheran EMS had a total of 5,460 calls that were reported within the area.
She said 2022 was kind of a post-Covid-19 year and there was a lot going on with healthcare and people were “concerned and playing catch-up,” so the data skewed as such. In 2022, Lutheran EMS had 5,708 calls.
“So we use a lot of 2021 data, really, to look at these things and compare, and when you compare you’ll see we’re at about 1,300 calls more (in 2023), compared to 2021,” Mediano said.