Gahanna residents will decide on a different way of funding their fire services through a proposed property-tax levy on the March 17 ballot.

Mifflin Township fire Chief Frederick Kauser said Issue 17, if approved, would be a transition from the fire department generally purchasing fire apparatus and ambulances and making building modifications using operating funds to a budget system in which all capital expenses would be managed separately.

"That way, both staff and equipment replacements can occur on schedule," he said.

If approved, the 0.6-mill capital levy would provide funds to purchase and maintain firefighting apparatus, ambulances and lifesaving rescue and medical equipment, as well as keep fire stations in shape.

It would cost $21 annually per $100,000 home valuation and raise about $600,000 annually.

Absentee voting, both in-person and by mail, began Feb. 19 for the March primary.

Kauser said the fire division over the past 35 years has grown with the city and the unincorporated township and has been in a building phase.

"As we begin to update buildings and as we replace fire apparatus, which are very expensive, we've kind of matured to the place where having two independent funds is better management of those funds and provides more transparency and understanding for the paying public," he said.

Melissa Rapp, the township's public-information officer, said the levy would help extend the current 10-year operating levy by two additional years and separate operating funds from capital funds in the future.

In the past, she said, all major assets, including fleet and facilities, were purchased using operating funds.

Operating funds are primarily for firefighters' salaries and other expenses, Rapp said.

"When we separate capital from the operating funds, then essentially during the next levy cycle, which is coming up, we're able to reduce the overall rate for operations since we're splitting into two funding sources," Kauser said. "So not only are we addressing capital needs, we're also shifting the way we budget.

"This gives us an opportunity to extend the current operating levy two years until at least 2022 before we come back and discuss the next levy for staffing and operational purposes," he said.

If approved, he said, the new levy would help the division continue replacing apparatus and equipment and making facility repairs on schedule.

"We think it's a relatively small (request), given the amount of assets that we're responsible to protect the public with," Kauser said.

He said the cost of a fire engine is about $600,000, and it costs an additional $150,000 to $200,000 to equip it.

"We operate one ladder truck that's about twice the cost of a fire engine, and we operate one heavy rescue that's about another 50% more than the base cost of a fire engine," Kauser said. "The good news is we get about eight to 10 years of front-line use out of a piece of fire equipment. And usually five to six years of backup reserve use, because fire trucks really never go out of service. When something is being repaired or down for preventative maintenance, we use a backup truck to make sure services aren't interrupted."

Mifflin Township serves about 36,800 residents in the city of Gahanna and more than 4,000 residents in the unincorporated township.

The fire division operates from four fire stations, employing 86 firefighter/paramedics, fire marshals, fire-prevention and -inspection officers and 16 full-time 911 dispatchers.

Mifflin Township firefighters responded to 12,455 calls for fire, EMS and rescue services in 2019.

The Mifflin Township Division of Police also has placed a levy on the ballot to be voted on only by residents living in the unincorporated portion of the township in northeast Columbus.

Issue 16 is a 3-mill capital levy to fund the police portion only of a new public-safety building in the unincorporated area.

If the issue is approved, the tax would cost an average homeowner in unincorporated Mifflin Township approximately $50 a year, based on $50,000 of home valuation, Rapp said.