Hilliard Northwest News

Brown Township leaders want discourse on failed fire levy

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An automatic recount appears likely after Brown Township's 5.12-mill fire levy request was defeated May 6, but township officials aren't waiting for the results to figure out their next step.

"We need to know from our voters if you're not going to approve the money we need for this contract, then what? We need to have fire and EMS (protection) ... and we need a solution," Fiscal Officer Greg Ruwe said.

Ruwe said Brown Township trustees plan to invite residents to a public meeting in June at Fire Station 82, 2491 Walker Road, to discuss the failure of the fire levy.

The next regularly scheduled trustees meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday, May 19, at Station 82.

According to the township, the fire levy is required to meet a contractual obligation with Norwich Township for EMS and fire protection services. Officials say according to the service contract, residents of both townships are required to maintain identical effective millage rates for receiving the same services.

Norwich Township voters approved a 4.12-mill fire levy in May 2013.

To keep pace, Brown Township put a 4.66-mill fire levy on the November 2013 ballot, but voters rejected it.

The May 6 election yielded the same result.

According to unofficial final results from the Franklin County Board of Elections, the 5.12-mill fire levy failed by eight votes, with 347 voting against it and 339 voting for it.

The recount is automatic per state law because the result is less than one-half of 1 percent of the 686 people who cast votes.

"We are disappointed that this extremely important decision was determined by such a small fraction of voters," Ruwe said.

According to Ruwe, Brown Township has 1,749 registered voters.

The 686 people who cast votes represent 39 percent of the number of registered voters -- still a higher turnout than the estimated 16.5 percent turnout of Franklin County voters May 6.

Last November, 222 people voted against the 4.66-mill levy request and 171 people voted for it.

Brown Township officials said little was done to promote the first levy request and said they would explain its significance for the May 6 election.

Township officials formed a committee, Safety First, to promote the 5.12-mill levy.

Township officials said they had to seek a greater millage to make up for revenue that would not be collected in 2014, which would have been used to reimburse Norwich Township.

Brown Township can still achieve the same result with a 5.12-mill levy in the November general election, according to Ruwe. The filing deadline for the August special election already has passed.

"Voters need to realize how important this will be in November," Ruwe said.

He said township officials anticipate a higher turnout typical of general elections.

Meanwhile, Ruwe said, he hopes those who did not vote, and especially those who rejected the levy, would have a discourse with trustees.

"Tell us why (you voted against it) and what is the alternative," Ruwe said. "If we can't maintain our contract, we need something in its place. We thought we had a solution, but the voters didn't agree.

"We hope it's still a matter of not understanding our contract or why we need the levy. But we need a solution we can live with."

Ruwe said the minimum millage required to create matching effective millage rates with Norwich Township is 4.62-mills, but Norwich trustees likely would need to agree to Brown seeking the lower amount.

The 5.12-mill levy would have become effective Jan. 1, 2015, and generated about $455,000 annually. It would have cost homeowners $179 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value, according to Ruwe.

After the failure of the first levy request last year, the Norwich Township trustees said the fire department would continue to provide service while Brown Township lobbied for approval of its May levy request.

They appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach this time.

"The ball is in their court," said Norwich Trustee Larry Earman, who declined to comment further until Brown Township made its reaction to the levy defeat clearer.

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