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Student Senate hears questions about campus safety at the Student Senate Town Hall meeting on March 29, 2023, in Ohio University's Walter Hall. (Megan VanVlack | For The Post)

Fire fee bill fails, sponsor attempts to revise it

Ohio University's undergraduate Student Senate failed to pass legislation that would have allowed the Senate to present an optional semesterly fire fee for students to the OU Board of Trustees. 

If students opted to pay the semesterly fee, which would be $50, the proceeds would be allocated toward staffing and training resources for the Athens Fire Department, or AFD, as well as fire education for OU students. 

Senate's primary sponsor of the legislation, Governmental Affairs Commissioner Dan Gordillo, a freshman studying political science and linguistics, presented the bill to the Senate on March 22.

"This optional fire fee bill is an attempt to support the Athens Fire Department through an opt-in opt-out fire fee that nears how the student legal fee is done," Gordillo said. 

Athens Fire Chief Robert Rymer brought the bill's necessity to Gordillo's attention.

Rymer has tried implementing legislation supporting a fire fee within the university for almost eight years. Rymer said he got the original idea from a former Athens City Council member. 

"The original idea was not mine, I believe it was Councilman Kent Butler at the time that had brought this idea forward," Rymer said. "The university said if the students want it … the students have to come to us and say 'Yes, we want to help the community to help provide more firefighters.'"

Gordillo said he believes the bill would benefit the community and aid in supplementing the current firefighter shortage at the AFD.

"The National Fire Protection Association … states a minimum of 15 firefighters should respond to a two-story house fire within four to eight minutes," Gordillo said. "Whereas the Athens Fire Department can only respond with four to six firefighters in the same time frame due to extremely low staffing."

According to a previous Post report, only 23 employees, including the fire chief and administration staff, are employed between the AFD's two stations, one of which is located on Richland Avenue and the other on Columbus Road in Athens.

"Our staffing has gone up and down, but never to the point that it truly needs to be (at). Our minimum staffing as of today is four people on duty," Rymer said. 

Following the bill’s failure, Gordillo discussed improvements to the bill with Senate members.

There were grammatical mistakes as well as repeated lines within the bill that were missed, and the lack of surveying students to get a feeling of how many would be willing to pay the fee were among the critiques Gordillo received.  

"Our testimonies were just not powerful and coordinated enough," Gordillo said. "Senate requires us to give a short little speech if you're a primary or secondary sponsor, so they are powerful rhetorical tools, and maybe we underutilized that."

Rees Morris, a freshman studying political science, is a senator on the Minority Affairs Commission in Senate. 

After also asking for other students' opinions on the bill and finding out that very few supported it or would not be willing to pay the fee that came with the bill, Morris said he could not support the bill. 

"If (students) are just going to waive it anyway, and the affiliate fees are just there and the fire department's not even getting the funding they want, it's not advantageous for them either if they're not going to end up with the funding that they really wanted," Morris said. 

Morris said he voted against the legislation due to the amount of money students would have to pay under the bill. 

"I just couldn't in good conscience support it because of the financial burden on students like me personally," Morris said. "I have tuition still left over after my loans and after my scholarships, everything, and a lot of it is fees and I wouldn't want that (fee)." 

Rymer said he is confident that once students are educated about the need for AFD firefighters, they will want to give back to the community through the fee.

"If it's involved with a new Senate next year, then I'll be back next year, provide the education and see what we can do," Rymer said. "It would not only help just the Athens Fire Department but the surrounding community."

Gordillo said the revised version of the bill may be presented to the Senate again prior to or at its last general body meeting on April 26.


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