AVON LAKE, Ohio – A tax to fund a new fire station in Avon Lake has been postponed from the May ballot to the November election, according to Fire Chief Jeremy Betsa, disappointed that the tax issue was not presented to voters better late than never.
He said the original plan was to build a new fire station and then renovate the old one for community use, providing storage space for the courthouse as well as renovations and additions to the police department. .
“All of these ideas put together in a plan that we spent three years developing cost around $35 million,” Betsa said. “The (city) council felt it was too expensive and would not support the concept. They indicated that they wanted an administrative recommendation for a lite version for their consideration.
He noted that it was the council’s safety committee that voted to withdraw support for the May levy, including council chairman Martin O’Donnell, Ward 1 councilor Billie Jo David and Ward 4 councilor David Kos.
The “lite” version — a “dramatic reduction,” Betsa said — is supposed to cost around $20 million to $22 million, according to the city council.
“We are disappointed not only for the city, but also for the people who work here and respond to citizens,” Betsa said.
He said the fire station was over 45 years old and the police department premises were 20 years old.
Current problems, he said, include the necessary maintenance of existing structures and serious space limitations. In the fire department, this means that it is difficult to hire women as firefighters, as they would need separate sleeping quarters, showers and toilets.
“We can’t even accommodate a shift in our classroom (for training). We have to use the training rooms of other departments,” he said.
Betsa said we live in a very different society today than when the station was built.
“We doubled our population (in the city) and increased our staff by more than 60%. In 1978 we received about 600 calls. Last year it was 3,045. These are dramatic conditions,” he said.
He also noted that there are currently over 600 new residential units approved for the city that will impact fire and police departments.
“The groundwork is being laid for us to be much busier,” he said. “And that’s not even touching on the effects of the pandemic that we couldn’t have imagined (45 years ago).
“I worry about future growth. We’ve had three different commission studies that say the department is understaffed, although they’ve agreed to add one more person per shift. But we will always be understaffed. Realistically, we need to have 12 per shift. The additional (people) added will bring us to 10.
“It’s unfortunate now too, because all the costs will go up and (the project) will be much more expensive now,” he said of the project’s postponement for at least another six months.
Betsa said he would have the lean budget ready to present to the security committee in February, as requested.
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