A bill to propose a fire fee failed to pass during Student Senate’s meeting on Wednesday. The bill proposed an optional semesterly fee of $50 for students, which would go toward hiring new Athens Fire Department firefighters.
The bill, if it had passed, would have allowed Senate to present the fire fee legislation to the Ohio University Board of Trustees for review. The bill sought to increase the funding the fire department receives from OU.
According to the proposed bill, the fire department receives funding from the city through property and income tax. However, OU is exempt from paying property taxes, despite an average of 40% of emergencies the fire department responds to taking place on OU property on a five-year average. OU instead annually pays the fire department $50,000.
The fire fee would be optional, with students unwilling or unable to pay it being able to anonymously exempt themselves from paying it. The bill would also encourage further fire-safety education for students.
“It’s a tragedy in this country that most people only know stop, drop and roll,” Governmental Affairs Commissioner Dan Gordillo, the bill’s primary sponsor, said. “The lack of knowledge in this area can only be fixed via education by qualified educators.”
Concerns were raised about the effectiveness of the fee due to it being optional, as well as concerns that students would not appreciate the addition of another charge. Gordillo stood by the bill and said that Senate can use this bill as a chance to act when other elected officials won’t.
After deliberation, 10 senators voted in support of the bill and 13 were opposed and the bill failed to pass. Following the adjournment of the meeting, Gordillo and Clay Lewis, University Life Commissioner and the bill’s secondary sponsor, expressed their disappointment but said they remained optimistic about the bill’s future.
“I believe that tonight was a failure on Senate’s part,” Lewis, said. “I hope that this angers students because this is something that serves only to benefit our community. We have an opportunity to give back and I cannot see within any reason why we are not using that opportunity.”
Gordillo also criticized OU for not providing more funding to the Athens Fire Department.
“I have not seen the end of Athens’ generosity, but I have seen the end of the university’s generosity,” Gordillo said. “At the end of the day, it seems more that the university is a business and less of a place of education. I want to say that this is not the end.”
Senate also heard from 4 Paws for Ability Ohio University, OU’s branch of the company 4 Paws for Ability based in Xenia, Ohio. The organization trains service dogs and allows people to be primary or secondary handlers of the dogs while they are in training.
Primary handlers temporarily adopt a dog as it grows up and train it with basic commands and behaviors in crowded spaces, around people of different ages and other demographics.
Secondary handlers are comparable to babysitters, as they only spend time with them for a few hours a day. Secondary handlers are able to bring the dogs to their classes on OU’s campus with pre-approval from faculty as well.
4 Paws for Ability dogs trained through OU’s branch have gone on to become diabetes-alert dogs, emotional support animals and assistance dogs for veterans.
Senate also moved to appoint Reagan Farmer and Morgan Dorais to the committee as Members Emeriti with senior honors.