Hilliard Northwest News

Brown, Norwich townships

Fire contract will get axed without levy

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The Norwich Township trustees last week notified Brown Township they would terminate the townships' contract for EMS and fire-protection services next year if Brown trustees cannot find a funding solution.

"It is with regret that I move we adopt a resolution informing Brown Township that if the levy does not pass in November, Norwich will cease to provide EMS and fire, May 15, 2015," Norwich Township Trustee Larry Earman said during a May 20 meeting.

"This puts (Brown Township) on notice. We're frustrated but serious (about suspending services) if they can't pass a levy."

Earman said Norwich Township could have challenged whether a 12-month notice period is required to terminate the contract, but the trustees chose to provide early notice.

"I don't want to get into those kinds of arguments ... but it also isn't fair to Norwich and Hilliard taxpayers for us to wait until November," Earman said.

Earman said the trustees did not want to wait until November to put Brown Township on notice.

If a November levy request were to fail, Norwich Township would be in position to withdraw service in May 2015 rather than potentially be required to provide services to Brown Township for another 12 months without adequate funding.

"Hopefully, Brown Township leaders will get a solution to this problem," Trustee Chuck Buck said. "This is not a knee-jerk reaction."

Brown Township voters rejected a 5.12-mill fire levy request May 6 by a vote of 352 to 343, according to official results from the Franklin County Board of Elections.

The results were certified May 22 and the margin of nine votes represents a difference of 1.60 percent, greater than the one-half of 1 percent margin that would have resulted in a mandatory recount, said Ben Piscitelli, a spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections.

A 4.66-mill fire levy request was rejected in November 2013.

Both levy attempts were in response to a 4.12-mill fire levy Norwich Township and Hilliard voters approved in May 2013, requiring Brown Township to follow suit in order to maintain an equal effective millage rate for both townships, according to the terms of the townships' contract.

In a related matter, Norwich Township trustees approved hiring Newhouse, Prophater, Letcher and Moots, a firm specializing in annexation law, to explore if EMS and fire-protection services could be transferred from Brown Township to Norwich Township for land, including Bradley High School, Brown Elementary School and Heritage Preserve, a residential subdivision under construction.

The parcels were subject to an expedited annexation process that placed them in the city of Hilliard, but they remained in an incorporated part of Brown Township, Earman said.

It is unclear if fire service could be transferred, Earman said, but Norwich is exploring the possibility to avoid a worst-case scenario of having the schools and subdivision lose EMS and fire protection.

"Hilliard needs to revisit its annexation policy," Trustee Tim Roberts.

Any effort to transfer fire service from the annexed areas would require Hilliard's participation, Earman said.

Norwich Township hired Newhouse, Prophater, Letcher and Moots because its primary legal counsel, Loveland and Brosius, also is legal counsel for Brown Township.

Both law firms are paid hourly so the change in legal counsel represents little or no change in cost, Roberts said.

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