Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

City staff prepares to approach Miami with solutions to the fire department’s financial deficit

<p>Assistant city manager Jessica Greene presented possible solutions to fire department&#x27;s financial deficit</p>

Assistant city manager Jessica Greene presented possible solutions to fire department's financial deficit

With the November elections less than eight months away, Oxford city council and staff debated possible solutions to Oxford Fire Department’s ongoing financial deficit. Assistant city manager Jessica Greene presented these possible solutions to council members last Tuesday.

According to Greene, Oxford’s population has increased by 1,700 residents compared to 10 years ago, contributing to a gradual rise in calls over the years. Now, the deficit is too large to be ignored.

“We have to do something,” Greene said. “We acknowledge that this is hard but something has to be done, otherwise we will have to make some drastic cuts in services or public safety.”

Greene opened the work session by discussing the source of most fire and EMS calls. In 2023, The Knolls, Woodland Country Manor and Parkview Arms Apartments were the leading sources of emergency, followed by Brick Street Bar. The Knolls, a retirement community, accounted for 176 calls compared to Brick Street, which totaled to 40.

For fire calls, four of the five leading sources came from Miami University housing. In 2023, Hepburn Hall, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house and Havighurst Hall were the three leading sources of calls.

In 2023, nearly a quarter of all fire and EMS calls came from Miami University’s on-campus properties. Although Miami students make up a large portion of the calls, Oxford’s elderly population accounted for 43.4% of EMS calls in 2023, surpassing the number of calls made by students. However, Chantel Raghu, vice mayor of Oxford, said the elderly should not be taxed for the number of calls they make.

“I struggle with [the idea of] taxing the elderly,” Raghu said. “I hope that one day when I am older and may need assistance, I won’t be living in a society that punishes the elderly for needing to call the fire department.”

At the current rate from 2023, the fire department faces a $1.82 million average annual deficit over the next 12 years. For 2024, this number was adjusted when considering new contract wages, applying property tax income from new valuation and six new staff, amounting to $1.66 million over the next 12 years. To address the situation, Greene presented three possible solutions to Miami President Gregory Crawford’s executive cabinet in December. 

The first solution presented and recommended by city staff is a property tax levy, so that those at Miami can pay a share of the fire and EMS services they use, said Greene. The staff recommends this because Oxford has the lowest property tax in Butler County, and the addition of a property tax would bring Oxford to the third lowest property tax town.

Photo by Olivia Patel | The Miami Student
Proposed property tax increases

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

Miami verbally agreed to contributing to a property tax, but city staff has not shared any concrete numbers with the university, Greene said. According to data presented by Greene, city staff would ask Miami to contribute in lieu of taxes based on the 36.9% of Miami’s students living on campus. This amount is currently set at $612,312 from Miami and is subject to change.

Students living off campus would contribute to this property tax through their rental property owner. 

Greene also presented an income tax levy, which would increase income tax from the current 2% to 2.3%. Through this, Miami is still willing to assist financially; however, the formula of how it would contribute has yet to be determined.

Proposed tax increases and their impact

Miami employees currently pay the income tax, making up the “largest revenue source,” according to city manager Doug Elliott. Councilor Jason Bracken didn’tt see this as a fair solution because it doesn’t address the strain students themselves place on the fire department through the number of calls.

In place of an income or property tax, Bracken suggested that Greene should present to Miami a student fee of $83, the yearly cost per student to address the $1.82 million deficit, in order for Miami students to fairly contribute. 

“Every student I’ve talked to would have no problem with the [fee],” Bracken said.

The third solution involves a public input strategy, which would necessitate an education campaign with the community through a series of question-and-answer sessions regarding the deficit. 

With these three solutions in discussion, councilors asked staff if the fire department can cut any internal costs, including by changing how the department handles false calls, which made up 682 of the total 1,098 calls in 2022.

Elliott said he hopes some of the responsibility for these calls can shift onto Miami’s police department, so the fire department would only respond in a case of actual emergency. 

Beyond its financial woes, the fire department is also facing a personnel shortage. The nine current full-time fire and EMS employees are overworked and exhausted, Raghu said, sometimes working up to 48-hour shifts at a time.

“The biggest issue is we don’t have enough people,” Elliott said. “We have to have a system that is sustainable and equitable.”

Councilors and staff debated how Miami students should weigh into the situation, and what a fair solution looks like for all those who use Oxford’s fire and EMS services. As Greene prepares to meet with Miami in the near future, conversations about the fire department will continue to circulate by city staff and councilors.