Rocky Fork Enterprise

Jefferson trustees hoping for stronger supporter turnout Aug. 5

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Jefferson Township voters will have another opportunity to decide the future of its fire department during a special election Aug. 5.

Jefferson Township trustees on May 7 -- less than 24 hours after the May ballot's failure -- voted to approve legislation to place a 3-mill levy for fire services on the August ballot.

A proposed 2-mill levy failed by 66 votes May 6, with 1,100 (51.55 percent) voting against the fire levy and 1,034 (48.45 percent) voting for it.

With the close results and low voter turnout, Rowan said, he doesn't think residents want the fire department dismantled.

If approved, the 3-mill levy would generate nearly $1.4 million in its first year for fire protection.

"There are always people who say no means no," he said. "We had (a small percentage) of 11,000 people in the township vote. I'm not convinced that's the sentiment of the township."

Rowan said the 3-mill levy represents 2 mills that will expire at the end of this year and a 1-mill levy that will expire in 2015.

"If we went back with the 2 mill, we'd immediately have to try to pass a 1-mill in November," he said. "It didn't make sense to try to pass 2 mills. We are putting them together and want residents to understand why we're doing it."

Rowan said the trustees want to convert renewal levies to permanent levies so they don't have to return to voters over and over again.

"People think we're asking for more and more," he said. "In reality, it's operating money for the services they're getting. It seems we're asking for more money when we really aren't."

He said the fire department already has taken its ladder truck out of service to reduce costs.

"The No. 1 service we provide is medic," he said. "We'll take the ladder out of service effective immediately. We have to move equipment off the ladder onto other vehicles so we still have access to that equipment."

He said the department is cutting some costs, but they're small when looking at the big picture.

"We're reducing staffing by a person," Rowan said. "Two mills was 25 percent of the budget. We're making a few cuts to get us moving in the right direction toward the August election. We have to make it clear this 25 percent can't be made up by cuts and small things."

It the August measure isn't approved, he said, it will mean significant layoffs and equipment out of service.

"I don't think residents want us to dismantle the fire department," Rowan said.

Jefferson Township Fire Chief Crystal Dickerson told ThisWeek it would be devastating if the 2-mill levy failed in the May primary because money generated by the levy is part of current operations.

"It's money we use now," she said.

The department serves about 11,000 residents within 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.

Voters must be registered by July 7 to be eligible to vote in the August special election.

About 8,800 resident are registered to vote in Jefferson Township, according to Ben Piscitelli, spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections.

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