The Jerome Township Fire Department is seeking a 3.5-mill, five-year levy on the March 17 ballot.

If approved by voters, property owners would pay an additional $90 per $100,000 of home valuation per year, said Doug Stewart, the township's fire chief. The levy would generate a little less than $1.46 million in new tax revenue annually, he said.

Stewart said if the issue passes, the Jerome Township board of trustees has committed to requesting the Union County Auditor's Office stop collection of a 1991 levy, Stewart said.

The 1991 levy was a continuing levy, he said.

That levy originally was approved at 2.3 mills and is collecting at 0.66 mill. It generates approximately $323,286 annually, he said.

"The intention has always been to clean up the books," Stewart said.

He said taxpayers often look at the voted millage associated with active levies but do not realize the effective rate of that millage is lower than what was originally approved by voters.

The fire department has 15.2 mills of voted millage, Stewart said. The effective rate, however, is 5.62 mills, and that generates a little more than $2.6 million annually in tax revenue.

Stewart said the township opted to request less millage than the November 5.5-mill ballot issue that was defeated.

He said residents told fire officials the township was asking for too much too soon.

Whereas the 5.5-mill levy was meant to help the department begin planning for a second station to be built in Jerome Village, the 3.5-mill levy will provide revenue only for current funding and general operations, he said.

The township's fire district also collects money annually from a combination of state funding, emergency-medical-service billing and revenue from contracts for providing fire and emergency medical services to surrounding townships, Stewart said.

The amount fluctuates every year, but this year the budgeted amount of revenue from those funding sources is about $200,000.

Stewart said grant funds also allowed the township to drop the amount of millage in this year's ballot issue request by at least 1.5 mills.

The fire department in May applied for a federal grant called SAFER, which stands for staffing adequate fire and emergency response, Stewart said.

In October the department was notified it was approved to receive funding -- $1.6 million total over three years -- to fund nine new jobs.

Stewart said the department would submit payroll salary and benefits information to the federal government this year and the next two years.

The grant would reimburse the department for 75% of the salary and benefits for the new employees this year and in 2021. The third year, the department will be reimbursed for 35% of the salary and benefits for the new employees.

The fire department has 17 firefighters and EMS personnel, Stewart said. The new employees were slated to begin working March 9.

The Jerome Township Fire Department is responsible for providing fire and emergency medical services for its own 30-square-mile township, as well as Mill Creek Township, for a total coverage area of 55 square miles, Stewart said. The contract for that extra coverage is $192,000.

The department has a response time of 1 to 2 minutes for the area in New California and near the fire station at 9689 U.S. Route 42, Stewart said. The response time for areas including Tartan Fields, Hyland-Croy Road and Jerome Village is 6 to 9 minutes, he said.

Those times are in addition to the roughly 96 seconds dispatchers need to respond to phone calls and dispatch fire and EMS staff, Stewart said.

Jerome Township trustee Joe Craft said Stewart needed to adjust his plan after the failure of the 5.5-mill levy. Like Stewart, he said, the receipt of the federal grant allows the department to lower the levy request.

Craft confirmed the trustees have agreed to request the 1991 levy no longer be collected if the 3.5-mill levy is approved March 17.

"The large amount of commercial property developed in Jerome Township helps greatly reduce the tax burden on the residential property owners," he said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

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