Hilliard Northwest News

May 7 primary

Officials cite fiscal record as grounds for fire levy

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Fifteen years have passed since residents of Hilliard and Norwich Township last voted on a fire levy.

They will get the chance to do so again next month when they decide the township's 4.12-mill levy request in the May 7 primary election.

"It's rare for a levy to last 10 years, much less 15," said Bob Apel, chairman of the Safety First Committee, the formal proponent of the Norwich fire levy that will appear as Issue 11 on the primary ballot.

In 1998, when voters approved a 6-mill levy, fire officials pledged it would last 10 years, Apel said.

"I think we've shown ourselves to be as fiscally responsible as possible," Apel said.

He said firefighters accepted a salary freeze from 2013 to 2015 to assist the township with escalating operating costs.

"This levy is not about salary increases," Apel said.

Since 1998, calls for emergency-medical service have increased 75 percent, from 2,282 calls for service to 4,015 calls for service last year, Apel said.

Also since 1998, two new fire stations opened: Station 83 at Davidson Road and Trueman Boulevard, and Station 82 on Walker Road.

The population of the service area has increased 34 percent, and the number of personnel at the fire department has increased from 46 to 85 employees, Apel said.

"Not many fire departments can say they have gone 15 years between levies," said Norwich Township Trustee Chairman Larry Earman.

If approved, the levy would generate $4 million annually and cost property owners an additional $126.18 per year per $100,000 of assessed property valuation.

Norwich Township and Hilliard residents currently pay about $215 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value for the township's other fire levies.

The May levy would be effective Jan. 1, 2014, but collected for the 2013 tax year, as property tax is collected one year in arrears.

"If we didn't seek this levy, the fire fund would be exhausted by the end of 2013," Earman said.

He said the fire fund has operated at a deficit for the past several years while the township's cash reserve subsidized it, but the township must seek a levy to remain solvent.

"The past chiefs and trustees have all been good stewards of our dollars (but) it's simply a matter of keeping up with growth of the community," Fire Chief Bob Kaufman said.

A total of 16 mills from six Norwich fire levies are on the books, but the cumulative effective millage being collected is 7.34 mills.

Voters approved a 1-mill levy in 1973, a 2.1-mill levy in 1974, a 1-mill levy in 1976, a 1.9-mill levy in 1978, a 4-mill levy in 1989 and the 6-mill levy in 1998.

The effective millage rate of each levy is reduced as property values increase. The reductions are made so to generate the same amount of revenue each year; otherwise, the amount collected would increase in proportion to property value increases.

The Norwich Township Fire Department has 85 personnel and its annual $12.5 million budget represents 80 percent of the township's overall budget of $15.75 million.

ThisWeek is unaware of any organized groups opposing the fire levy.

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