Gov. Mike DeWine announced a new round of first responder wellness funding and Miami University and West Chester Twp. will receive a total of nearly $2.5 million to hire more personnel.
West Chester was awarded $1.8 million to hire 7.5 new police officers and a dispatcher for two years, including signing bonuses. Miami University is getting $641,230 to hire three new officers with the same terms.
“When it comes to public safety, we don’t want our police officers, firefighters and medics to be overworked and exhausted when they’re responding to emergencies,” DeWine said. “Through this program, we’re not only helping local first responders get support for their mental wellbeing, but we’re also helping to ease the workload on current staff by funding new hires.”
DeWine established the $95 million Ohio First Responder Recruitment, Retention, and Resilience Program in May 2022 to support the wellness needs of law enforcement officers, dispatchers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
A total of $61 million has been awarded to 237 first responder agencies to-date. This total includes $11.9 million for 29 agencies announced Wednesday and West Chester received the most out of this latest batch of funding.
Butler County as a whole has received a total of $9 million from the program with money going to Fairfield, Fairfield Twp., Hamilton, Trenton and Liberty and Madison townships, West Chester received the lion’s share with almost $4 million. The township already received $1.9 million to hire 7.5 firefighters for two years and $179,200 for annual wellness checks and clinician visits.
The money runs out after two years and it is a reimbursable grant so Trustee Mark Welch said if they don’t use it they lose it. He said he believes the additional positions will be sustainable after the grant expires, because they are always trying to get to their full complement of 90 officers due to retirements and attrition, “we’re always looking for qualified personnel for safety services.”
“We’re just trying to get back to that full 90 at this point, so I think it’s very sustainable,” Welch said. “I think this two-year plug of money will, I’m not going to say it’s going to get a full two years, but it could add another year to the tax levy.”
He said he is worried however that this huge influx of cash — Deerfield Twp. in Warren County was awarded $3.6 million to hire 19 firefighters earlier in the grant cycle — to the region is going to make even harder to find qualified first responders because of competition.
Even prior to the pandemic, first responder agencies were having a hard time filling vacancies because people just aren’t going into those professions anymore. The situation was exacerbated by the pandemic when workers in nearly every sector of the workforce starting quitting their jobs in droves.
“It’s definitely more difficult than it has been in years past, we’re not immune from dealing with what everybody else in the law enforcement community is, is just the numbers just aren’t there, people wanting to get into law enforcement and with retirements and early retirements coming up it makes it very difficult for us,” Police Chief Joel Herzog said. “But here at West Chester we still are able to attract qualified applicants that we’re able to process through, but it’s almost come to a trickle I would say.”
Herzog said as far as the competition from other grant-winning departments, “that could have some effect, but honestly I don’t think that’ll be too much on us, I think we’re kind of a destination department ... we have a great community and great community support.”
Trustee Ann Becker replied “awesome” when she learned about the grant, she too said part of the purpose of applying for the funds was to “create longevity with our police levy,” but vacancies are problematic.
“We have had a lot of retirements and we’ve been hiring police as we can, but this might give us motivation to expand our hiring for our police department, similar to what we did with our fire department,” Becker said. “To fill openings that we already have ... that’ll give us opportunity to get us up to full staff.”
Miami University’s police chief could not be reached for comment regarding the department’s grant.
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