Hilliard Northwest News

Brown Township

Third time's the charm? Fire levy on ballot once again

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Brown Township residents in November will be asked for a third time to approve a fire levy that would allow the township to maintain its contract with Norwich Township for fire suppression and EMS services.

The Brown Township trustees July 28 unanimously approved a resolution requesting placement of a 5.12-mill fire levy on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If approved, it would generate $455,016 annually and cost homeowners about $179 annually per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Fiscal Officer Greg Ruwe said he planned to deliver the resolution July 29 to the Franklin County Board of Elections. The township had until Aug. 6, 90 days prior to the Nov. 4 election, to request placement of the issue on the ballot.

About 25 residents and officials from the Norwich Township Fire Department attended the July 28 special meeting.

"It's a no-brainer," said Barb Huggett of Amity Road. "Norwich Township has taken care of us all this time and they've done a great job. It's a great deal."

Don Mutters, who lives on Scioto Darby Road, said it was a "black-and-white issue."

"It will cost us (more) to go anywhere else," Mutters said.

Beth Clark, executive assistant to the Brown Township trustees, reported findings July 28 for the cost of turning to Prairie Township or the Columbus Division of Fire for EMS and fire-protection services.

Columbus official did not provide a specific proposal, Clark said, instead citing their contract with the city of Bexley as an example of how it might contract with Brown Township.

The annual operating cost to Bexley is $1.84 million, Clark said.

Columbus would not staff Brown's fire station; rather, it would provide service from Columbus stations, Clark said.

According to a letter from Prairie Township's administrator, Tracy Hatmaker, Prairie Township officials estimated the annual cost to provide fire suppression and EMS services to Brown Township's approximately 790 households would be $1.74 million.

In addition to the annual cost of service, Prairie Township official indicated there would be a startup cost of $700,000 to $800,000 to purchase the equipment needed to staff Brown Township's Station 82.

Brown Township owns the station at 2491 Walker Road but it is equipped and staffed by Norwich Township.

Based on Brown Township's total evaluation of $88.9 million, Prairie Township said it would require a rate of 19.7 mills to generate the required revenue to fund operations alone.

Residents of Norwich Township and Hilliard currently pay an effective rate of 11.5 mills for EMS and fire-protection services from the Norwich Township Fire Department.

After Brown residents rejected two previous fire levies -- a 4.66-mill measure in November 2013 and a 5.12-mill request in May -- Brown Township's effective rate has dropped to 6.88 mills, Ruwe said. That violates the provisions of a contract between Brown and Norwich townships requiring both to maintain equal effective millage rates, he said.

After the May levy request failed by nine votes, the Norwich Township trustees notified Brown Township they would suspend EMS and fire-protection services effective May 31, 2015.

The Brown Township trustees said July 28 there were no other viable options but to seek a levy for a third time.

"If (the levy) doesn't make it through, we will have no protection at all," said Brown Township Trustee Gary Dever. "This isn't a scare tactic. We've tried to spell it out at all our meetings."

Dever cautioned of the consequences of a third levy failure, including the loss of property value.

"We haven't asked for a levy in 10 years," Dever said. "Take a good, hard look at yourselves and ask (if the levy) is justifiable for my home and my future."

Brown Township residents last approved a fire levy in 2004 for 3.2 mills. The only other levy on the books is an 8-mill levy approved in 1994.

Some of those in attendance July 28 still were opposed to the levy request.

"I think you are using scare tactics," said David Gillum of Amity Road.

Ben Sayre, whose family owns about 500 acres of active farmland on Patterson Road, recounted his soaring property tax bills. He said he could ill afford additional taxes for a fire levy, especially since crop prices continue to fall.

"That's not chicken feed from my pockets," Sayre said.

Trustees acknowledged the increase in taxes but attributed it to increases the state recently levied against some kinds of agriculture and farmland.

"It doesn't relate to our fire department," Dever said.

The 5.12-mill levy Brown seeks Nov. 4 would be identical to the levy rejected in May.

Collection of the adjusted value would begin Jan. 1, 2015, collected in arrears for the 2014 tax year, Ruwe said.

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