Rocky Fork Enterprise

Jefferson Township

Fire chief: Levy failure would be devastating

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Jefferson Township residents will decide on a 2-mill levy on the May 6 ballot to sustain current operations at the Jefferson Township Fire Department.

The proposed 2-mill contuing levy would generate an estimated $933,301.24 annually.

It would cost homeowners an additional $70 per year, or $5.83 a month, per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Jefferson Township Fire Chief Crystal Dickerson said levy failure would be devastating because money generated by the levy is part of the existing operation.

"The board of trustees has opted to make the typical renewal a continuing levy so we don't have to come back to voters every five years for re-approval," she said. "It's a restructuring of the levy."

By making it continuing, Dickerson said, the department could focus on annual operations and delivery of services instead of making annual financial contingency plans that are dependent on whether voters reauthorize the same level of funding they previously approved.

Mike Rowan, trustees chairman, said the fire department has a temporary 2-mill levy that expires at the end of this year.

"We have three temporary levies that expire (for the fire department,)," he said. "Rather than just continue to go back to voters, we're converting one to a permanent (continuing). The other two we'll have to make the same type of decision."

The other temporary levies expire in 2015 and 2016.

"The residents have the perception we keep asking for more money, but we ask to renew," Rowan said. "They don't realize it's money they've already been paying and approved."

Dickerson said residents are paying about $52 annually for the 2-mill levy that's expiring.

"It will increase what residents are already paying by $18 a year to bring it to the current collection rate," she said. "That's $80,000 of new money annually."

She said the 2-mill voted levy is being collected at only a 1.8-mill effective rate, and the new levy would bring the level back up to 2 mills.

Dickerson said the levy language makes it seem as though it's new, but it isn't.

"We're trying to get the message out," she said. "The 2-mill renewal is dropping off, and we're making it continuing."

If the levy fails, Dickerson said, the trustees likely would put it back on the ballot.

"It's money we use now," she said. "We would face major cuts. It would be a huge hit.

"We would face layoffs and couldn't continue operating as we are now. It's money we already use to sustain operations."

In addition to using the revenue for existing operating expenses, Dickerson said, funds would be used to replace an aging medical vehicle and fire engine.

If voters approve, the levy will be effective this year, with the first payment due in 2015.

"It will devastate us to lose any," Dickerson said.

The department serves about 11,000 residents within approximately 14 square miles, including parts of Reynoldsburg, Gahanna and Columbus.

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

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