Rocky Fork Enterprise

Jefferson Township Fire Department

'Very critical' 3-mill levy to appear on May ballot

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Jefferson Township is asking voters to approve a new 3-mill levy May 7 to sustain its current operations.

Fire Chief Crystal Dickerson said the department would be devastated if the issue fails.

The levy would cost property owners an additional $91.88 per $100,000 of assessed property value, she said, but would generate $1.3 million annually.

"It's very critical to our operation," Dickerson said. "If it fails, we'd have to immediately make cuts. We already have a slim operating budget. It's imperative the community know this is real. It will devastate us if it goes down."

At risk is the department's part-time staff. Cuts could lead to putting the ladder truck out of service, Dickerson said.

"We have three part-time positions a day, and we'd lose those," she said. "That's three people to staff trucks. Our part-time staff helps subsidize our crew. Staffing is critical. This is very critical."

The fire department currently staffs one full-time station at 6767 Havens Corners Road in Blacklick.

On a typical 24-hour shift, up to nine firefighter/paramedics and a battalion chief are on duty. The fire chief and the 40-hour battalion chief in charge of prevention are available during business hours -- 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

If the issue fails, Dickerson said, a forced retirement with a reduction in operational expenses could save three full-time firefighters.

She said voters last approved an increase in 2007 and that 2-mill levy was renewed last fall.

"We had one chance to pass the renewal, and the board opted to leave the renewal alone," Dickerson said. "It was critical to the operation then. We had to make the hard decision of putting this on in the spring."

She said the department has experienced increases in operational costs but has seen no recent increase in revenue.

"Revenue isn't coming in to sustain the cost of the operation," she said. "Personnel are the cost. We can't move the trucks without the staff. If this levy fails, those will be initial cuts. If it goes down again, we'll cut into more and more personnel."

The Jefferson Township Fire Department responded to a record 2,077 calls for assistance in 2012.

"We serve a population the size of a city with almost 11,000 residents," Dickerson said. "We're the fasting-growing township in Franklin County, according to the 2010 census."

The service area is approximately 14 square miles and includes parts of Reynoldsburg, Gahanna and Columbus.

The department was established as a volunteer department in 1967. Since then it has transitioned from volunteers to a combination of full-time and part-time firefighters and paramedics.

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