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Public meetings provide forum for Bluffton income tax proposal

A repeat presentation and Q&A session will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18

Ballot Issue proposed for increased Safety Services funding

By Paula Pyzik Scott

On Monday, June 10, Bluffton Council held a special and a regular meeting at the EMS building to provide information and answer questions about a proposed Village income tax increase that would help grow Safety Services funding. Council is preparing to put an additional 0.4% income tax on the November 5 ballot “for the purpose of generating revenue for the capital needs and operations of … Bluffton EMS, Bluffton Fire and Bluffton Police Departments.”

At the special meeting, the EMS, Police and Fire chiefs reported on staffing needs and equipment costs. The Village Fiscal Officer presented information about funding sources and the decision to propose a new income tax rather than a property tax.

Council members commented on why they support the proposal. In the regular meeting that followed, they passed a second reading of the resolution and the ordinance needed to put the new tax on the November 5 ballot.

Police Chief Ryan Burkholder opened the program. He reported that the Bluffton Police Department provides 24/7 coverage and strives to have two officers for each shift. When fully staffed, there are 10 full-time officers including a school resource officer. Current call volume is 6,320 calls for service per year.

Capital expenses for the police department include cruisers (police cars), body armor, cruiser cameras, (in the near future) body cameras, cruiser laptops, firearms and K-9 program. There are three marked police cruisers, a K-9 vehicle, an administrative vehicle and an unmarked unit.

Burkholder reported that he would like to create a new facility for firearms training. He also commented that part-time officer staffing is becoming obsolete and that a clerk position will be needed to handle records management for body worn cameras.

EMS Chief Jan Basinger reviewed volunteer numbers, equipment costs and call volume. He also introduced plans to create a department staffed with full-time employees.

There are currently 13 volunteer EMS members, who have other full-time jobs. In the past, the department averaged 25 squad members. Basinger noted that older members of the squad make many of the runs and that Bluffton EMS has needed to accept members who live further away. 

Basinger said that the most important fact is that 911 call response times have lengthened from 7 to 15 minutes.

Basinger showed how annual Bluffton EMS call volumes have grown from 429 in 2014 to 808 in 2022. This year he expects some 852 calls for service. He noted that the department’s ability to cover all fire runs has decreased.

In his review of equipment costs, Basinger noted that an ambulance to be delivered in 2025 will cost $350K. With growing demand for EMS services, he now expects an ambulance to last 16-17 years; previously replacement was scheduled every 20 years. Lift cots that can transport patients up to 700 lbs. are some $75K.

Full-time EMS staff would include up to 6 full-time EMTSs and a full-time chief, and that would not be Basinger, who has a full time job with the Village. The EMS building can accommodate a change to full-time staffing and has space that can be converted to bunk rooms and a kitchen. Showers are already in the building.

In the Q&A period, Basinger explained that Bluffton EMS does “soft billing” and receives what is allowed by insurance and Medicare. If a patient is not transported, there is no revenue for the call. Some 35% of EMS calls do not require a trip to the hospital. 

Fire Chief Jon Kinn presented information on the recommended replacement of fire fighting equipment and on the difficulty of retaining volunteer firefighters. 

There are currently 19 volunteer members in the fire department, who are trained in firefighting and at minimum hazardous materials awareness levels.

A 10-year chronology of fire runs shows a high of 143 calls in 2014 and a low of 93 in 2021. However, this year is on pace to reach 156 calls.

Kinn reported that in the Village the Fire Department has an ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating of 4, which is very good for a municipality of Bluffton's size. 

The Bluffton Fire Department operates 2 fire engines, 1 aerial truck, 1 tanker, 1 grass truck and 1 equipment truck. Kin noted that annual equipment cost increases have leaped from 3-4% to 25-40%. 

Fiscal Officer Kevin Nickel provided the following 20-year Safety Services expense projections

Fire Vehicles 
EMS Vehicles
Police Vehicles 
Capital Items


Full-Time EMS






20-year Safety Services revenue projections

Sale of Assets
General Fund Transfer
EMS Revenue




20-year Safety Services funding projections

Funding Needed

Income Tax %


Funding Provided

In the Q&A period, questions were fielded regarding the need for a Safety Services coordinator and whether a higher income tax would hurt Bluffton’s “competitiveness.” Nickels responded that there are comparable communities with similar rates. provided the following comparisons in Northwest Ohio:

Ada 1.650%
Anna 1.750%
Bowling Green 2.000%
Carey 1.500%
Columbus Grove 1.250%
Lima 1.500%
Findlay 1.000%
Glandorf 1.500%
Jenera 1.000%
Ottawa 1.000%
Pandora 1.500%
Mt. Cory 1.000%
Sidney 1.650%
Wapakonta 1.500%