Jackson Township will ask residents to approve a 3.75-mill fire levy on the November ballot.
In a special meeting July 29, township trustees voted unanimously for a resolution declaring their intent to pursue the levy. The resolution now moves to the Franklin County Board of Elections for certification, which must be decided by Aug. 18. If certified as expected, the fire levy -- which would be Jackson Township's first since 1991 -- will be on the ballot Nov. 4.
The 3.75-mill levy is expected to generate $3.68 million a year for the township fire department. That amount was certified by the Franklin County auditor's office.
For property owners, passage of the levy would cost an additional $131.25 per year, per $100,000 of home valuation, according to township and county officials. Property owners currently pay $246.69 annually for Jackson fire levies.
"This is not an easy decision," said Trustees Chairman David Burris, before voting in favor of pursuing the levy. "We've got to do what we need to do."
Township officials said declining revenues, including changes made by the state to traditional sources such as the local government fund, and rising expenses have necessitated asking the community for a tax increase.
"We have tried to stretch these funds as far as we can, but the rubber band is at its apex of breaking," said Township Administrator Mike Lilly. "You have to put it on this fall so you can collect in June 2015. ... After that, it gets really scary."
Based on projections, the fire department is expected to have a budget deficit of more than $400,000 in 2015 without additional revenue. That deficit is expected to grow to more than $700,000 in subsequent years without significant cuts or revenue increases.
To make up the difference, the township has been dipping into its general fund reserves to pay for fire operations. But those reserves have decreased from $3.4 million in 2011 to a projected $192,225 in 2015.
"We're in a deficit already," said Lilly, adding that it becomes "irreversible" in 2015.
Trustee Stephen Bowshier, who previously voted against moving forward with a levy, supported the resolution this time.
"I guess we have no choice but to move forward," he said.
Bowshier said he wanted more time to explore other options, including negotiating with Grove City about sharing revenue from tax increment finance (TIF) districts and tax-abated property.
The township provides fire and emergency medical services for both unincorporated parts of the township and Grove City.
Burris said he agreed with Bowshier's point about exploring other options.
"I'm not saying you don't try these other options, but this is not going to get you over the hump next year," Burris said.
Fire Chief Rick Dawson said the operational demands of the department are only going to increase as the community grows.
"I think we're about as lean as we can get," he said. "I think this is the right thing. ... I believe our community will support us."