BY RICHELLE THOMPSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEBANON -- When Gil Jarrard joined city council in 1976, an all-volunteer fire and emergency crew responded to calls from the city's 5,600 residents.
Within a decade, Lebanon's increasing population approved a 3-mill fire levy to pay for a full-time fire chief and part-time emergency staff. That's been the status quo for 15 years.
Now it's time for a change, according to supporters of an effort to raise the city's fire levy to 4.5 mills.
The city's population of 14,000 -- and still growing -- justifies around-the-clock emergency services and upgraded fire protection, said Mr. Jarrard, a 22-year council veteran who resigned this summer because of illness. He is heading Citizens for a Safe Lebanon, a political action committee formed to campaign for the fire levy. The group has received $10,000 in donations.
"Unless we do something, we're not going to have the same quality of service from our fire department," Mr. Jarrard said. "We have to make people aware of the need."
Should voters in Lebanon approve the ballot issue Tuesday, the increased fire levy would go into effect in 2000 and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $158 annually -- an increase of $53 a year from the 3-mill levy.
Now staffed with one full-time employee, Chief Michael Hannigan, and 40 volunteers, the fire department has a response time of about eight minutes. That drops in half during weekdays when 12 part-time emergency medical technicians staff the department from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
With the proposed levy, the department would have around-the-clock EMS staffing and part-time fire crews on duty Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The additional revenue would provide for a full-time fire captain, new equipment and a second fire station by 2004.
"Residents really will see a marked difference in response time" with the proposed expansion to staff, Mr. Hannigan said. "We need to be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It makes a difference."
Although the city has never turned down a fire levy, other levies proposed by the school system have had a tough ride at the polls in recent years. Still Mr. Hannigan is confident voters will pass the issue.
"I see it as a report card of how the community views the job the fire department does," he said.