Budget shortfalls are pushing Jackson Township toward the November ballot.
In a special meeting July 8, the Jackson Township Board of Trustees voted 2-1 to declare a tax levy necessary to provide and maintain the fire division.
The vote came one week after the board approved its 2015 tax budget, which predicted continued deficit spending and depleted cash reserves in the coming years.
Given its data, "2016 is when we're in a hole we cannot get out of," Township Administrator Mike Lilly said. "We are at the absolute nexus of making a decision ... Our day has come."
Trustee Chairman David Burris and Trustee Jim Rauck voted in favor of moving forward with an operating levy.
"I'm one that doesn't like to raise taxes," Burris said. "I'm not in favor of cutting services. I don't think the community wants us to cut services ... We have an obligation to run the fire department effectively."
After the initial step of declaring a tax levy necessary, the township must request certification from the Franklin County Auditor's Office for the total current tax valuation of the township as well as the dollar amount of revenue that would be generated by the additional levy.
While a final millage amount has not been determined, the township is asking the auditor to certify the revenue of levies at 2 mills, 3 mills and 4 mills.
A 4-mill levy, based on information presented at the meeting, would cost an additional $140 a year per $100,000 of property valuation and would generate $3.9 million for the township. A 3-mill levy would cost an additional $105 per year and generate $2.9 million, while a levy at 2 mills would cost an additional $70 and raise $1.9 million.
"I think it's our obligation to bring this to the community," Rauck said. "I don't see how we don't bring it in front of them."
Trustee Stephen Bowshier dissented.
"I'm not there yet," Bowshier said. "I want to talk to the city and check out other options we have ... I'm not convinced we've done everything we could do before going forward with a tax levy."
Lilly and Bowshier said they planned to meet with Grove City officials to discuss other options, including tapping into city tax-increment financing (TIF) money. Some areas, including the Pinnacle development, have been set aside as TIF districts where, in lieu of property taxes on the increased value of the land, landowners make payments into the TIF fund, and that money is used to make capital improvements and promote development.
In those cases, the township only receives revenue on the original value of the developed properties.
The operating costs of the Jackson Township Fire Division are projected to be $10.9 million for 2014. In 2015, that amount will rise to slightly more than $12 million and will increase again to $12.4 million in 2016. Even with contributions from the township's general fund, the fire department projects it will run a deficit of $393,597 in 2015 and $1.5 million in 2016.
Currently, the township has five active levies, the last of which was approved in 1991. The combined original millage of these levies is 19 but Lilly said the effective millage has been diluted down to 8.06, or $246.69 per year for a house valued at $100,000.
House Bill 920, originally passed in 1976, limits inflation of taxes when property is re-evaluated. As a result, the township is collecting $8.1 million. If the township were collecting the full value of the voted mills, the amount would be $18.6 million.
"There are 11 mills that have been diluted over the years," Lilly said. "We've eaten through almost $4 million worth of general reserves in a year and a half. Realistically, you need to be looking in the 4-mill area."
The board has until Aug. 6 to put a fire levy on the November ballot.