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Bluffton Council prepares legislation to put new Safety Services funding on November 2024 ballot

Proposed Village Income Tax increase would raise about $31M over 20 years; June 10 and June 18 public meetings scheduled

By Paula Pyzik Scott

On Tuesday, May 28, the Village of Bluffton Council took the first steps required to ask Bluffton voters for new funding for Village EMS, Fire and Police departments. Beginning with a separate committee of the whole meeting, councilors reviewed developments that make current funding inadequate to continue existing levels of service.

Significant equipment cost increases and dramatically higher demand for EMS services were cited as primary factors. Full-time EMS staffing is proposed.

Council discussed a proposed November 5 ballot measure asking Bluffton voters to approve or deny an increase in the Village income tax rate from 1.25% to 1.65%

At the regular meeting that followed, council unanimously approved the first of three readings of a Resolution to place the issue on the November 5, 2024 ballot. Council also unanimously approved the first of three readings of the Ordinance to increase the Village income tax for 20 years.

Council is scheduling two public meetings to present and discuss the proposed funding increase with voters: on June 10 before the 7:00 p.m. council meeting and on June 18 at 7:00 p.m. The proposed location for both meetings is the EMS building at 402 N. Main. A letter about the meetings will be sent to residents. 

With the ballot measure, Council seeks to create an estimated $31M for Safety Services over 20 years. 

Council seeks to meet the rising costs of equipment such as police cruisers and fire trucks. Fire Chief Jon Kinn noted that in the past the department could plan for equipment replacement cost increases of 3-4% but that new fire trucks are currently 10-15% more.

The proposal would also fund a change from volunteer to full-time EMS staffing. Jan Basinger, EMS Chief, said that his department of volunteers is just 1-2 people away from “collapse.” He noted that illness or retirement of any current squad members would critically impact service. Currently there are 12 EMS volunteers; past numbers were around 20. 

At the same time, 911 calls have increased dramatically. Kinn reported that across the nation, 911 calls have tripled. Basinger said that two years ago the EMS squad made a record 808 runs and that this year they are already 60 calls ahead of that number.

The May 28 first readings of the Resolution and Ordinance set the Village on schedule to submit the ballot issue to both Allen County and Hancock County boards of election.

The next meetings of the Village of Bluffton Council are at 7:00 p.m. on June 10 and 24, when second and third readings are expected to take place. Meetings are held on the third floor of Town Hall, 154 N. Main.