Jerome Township Fire Department Chief Doug Stewart says he thinks the delayed voting in Ohio's primary election had a negative impact on the outcome of a tax issue that would have provided additional funding.
Stewart said he strongly believes the levy would have passed had residents voted March 17 instead of April 28, the rescheduled date for Ohio's primary election.
COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic restrictions pushed back the election. It was conducted primarily via mail-in ballot and by voters dropping off ballots at local elections boards.
Next steps for the township include determining whether to return to voters with a levy in the fall or the spring, Stewart said.
"We cannot provide the safety services to the township today without this fire levy," he said.
The levy would have generated a little less than $1.46 million in new tax revenue annually and cost the owner of a $100,000 residence an additional $90 a year in property tax, according to Stewart.
Unofficial final results from the Union County Board of Elections show the 3.5-mill, five-year levy was defeated 698 votes to 583 votes, or 54.49% to 45.51%.
Had the issue been approved, Jerome Township trustees had committed to rewould have followed through on a committion to request the Union County Auditor's Office to stop collection of a 1991 continuing levy, Stewart said previously.
That levy originally was approved at 2.3 mills and is collecting at 0.66 mill. It generates approximately $323,286 annually, he said.
Stewart said the department will need to view official election results to determine which precincts it needs to focus a future campaign. Generally, New California (near U.S. routes 42 and 33) is the toughest precinct in the township for approving fire levies, he said.
Jerome 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 Mill Creek pays for that extra coverage is $192,000.
Expenses continue to rise while the number of responses continue to grow, he said. Included in the fire department's territory is a growing community in Jerome Village and commercial growth along Industrial Parkway.
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.
Response times for such areas as 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.
The department was able to add nine firefighters to its rolls via a grant in March, but at the end of three years when the grant funding runs out, the department has to be able to sustain those positions itself, he said.
In May 2019, Jerome 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 the nine new jobs.
The grant funds reimburse the department for 75% of the salary and benefits for the new employees this year and in 2021. In the third year, the department will be reimbursed for 35% of the salary and benefits for the new employees.
Stewart said he does not believe the levy millage request can be reduced and still generate the proper funding.
After a 5.5-mill levy failed in November, the township opted to put the 3.5-mill levy on the spring ballot.
"We cannot continue to drop this levy amount just to get a levy passed," Stewart said. "We're only hurting the safety of the community."
Washington Township fire levy approved
In Washington Township, a five-year, 8.25-mill renewal fire levy for the township's fire department was approved overwhelmingly by voters in precincts in all three counties it serves: Delaware, Franklin and Union.
Unofficial results from the Franklin County Board of Elections show the issue was approved 4,768 votes (85.45%) to 812 votes (14.55%).
The Union County Board of Elections' unofficial results show the issue was approved 350 votes to 87 votes, or 80.09% to 19.91%.
Unofficial results from the Delaware County Board of Elections show the issue was approved 507 votes to 141 votes, or 78.24% to 21.76%.
The levy is expected to generate $17.33 million annually. It renews the 8.25-mill levy set to expire Dec. 31. Property owners will pay $226.06 per year per $100,000 of home valuation.
The levy originally was approved in 2010 and was renewed again in 2015. It's collecting at an effective rate of about 7.4 mills.
Washington Township trustees and employees are grateful for the tax issue support, said Denise Franz-King, board of trustees chairwoman.
"Our firefighters earn the public's respect with the professional and compassionate care they deliver every day," she said. "The levy will enable that same level of service to continue."