Third time a charm? Jerome Township asks again for fire levy

Sarah Sole
ThisWeek group
Jerome Township firefighter Ryan Bebout raises the cab of the engine so he can check engine fluid levels Oct. 1. Township officials are seeking a renewal of a 2011 2.9-mill levy and an additional 2.9 mills for fire and emergency-medical-services operations on the November ballot.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, online meetings will be one way in which Jerome Township officials said they would communicate information about fire-levy request on the Nov. 3 general-election ballot.

Jerome Township residents will vote on a request to renew a 2.9-mill levy originally approved in 2011 and to add 2.9 mills.

This is the third time in 12 months a fire-levy request has been on the ballot.

Voters rejected a 5.5-mill, five-year levy request in November 2019 and a 3.5-mill, five-year request in April.

Previous story:Jerome Township will ask again for fire levy on November ballot

Township property owners pay a bit less than $183.73 annually per $100,000 of home valuation for fire and emergency-medical services, said fire Chief Douglas Stewart.

If the levy were to be approved in November, it would add about $100 more per year to their tax bills, he said.

The levy is projected to collect about $930,000 in 2021, he said. The renewed levy and additional millage would begin collecting in 2022, he said.

The added 2.9 mills would generate just over $1.2 million annually, Stewart said.

Stewart said the 2011 levy would continue to collect at its effective rate of 2.09 mills if voters approve its renewal in November.

The fire department has only two other levies on the books, according to Stewart, and both are permanent levies.

The first is a 2.3-mill levy approved in 1991 that is collected at an effective rate of approximately 0.66 mill. The second is a 10 mill-levy approved in 1992 that is collected at a rate of approximately 2.85 mills, he said.

The fire department’s total levy millage generates $2.63 million annually for the township, Stewart said.

Stewart said funds raised by the levy are used for operations, including employee salaries and utilities.

Jerome Township firefighters Ben Farbacher, left, and Jeremiah Brisson check the supplies on a medic-unit vehicle Oct. 1. The township is asking voters to renew a 2011 2.9-mill levy and add 2.9 mills for fire and emergency-medical-services operations on the November ballot.

He said the additional funding is needed to pay for employees hired earlier this year as a result of a grant.

The fire department is set to receive $1.6 million over three years to fund nine new jobs via a federal grant called SAFER, which stands for “staffing adequate fire and emergency response,” Stewart said.

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

If the levy fails, the department might have to lay off those firefighters hired via the grant, Stewart said. The grant obligates the department to maintain the positions for the duration of the grant.

“The potential is there,” he said of the layoffs.

Stewart said he also needs funding to add part-time positions. Those positions are used to cover full-time staff members on vacation or out on sick leave to avoid overtime for other full-timers, he said.

As a result of the spring levy’s failure, the fire department eliminated part-time positions, Stewart said.

The department was approved by the board of trustees to have 12 part-time positions, and seven of those were filled, he said.

He said if the November levy is approved, he hopes to reinstate six of the seven part-time positions sometime in 2022.

The department has 26 full-time employees, he said.

As of now, the department is at minimum staffing levels of four people per day – the total for the department in 2000, Stewart said. That’s not enough staff to cover the department’s needs, he said.

“(Even) eight people is not enough,” he said.

Stewart said the department relies on mutual aid from other fire departments for every fire to which it responds.

Twenty fire departments, including, but not limited to, Delaware County EMS and Union County Emergency Management Agency, Powell, Marysville, Pleasant Valley and Concord, Liberty, Scioto and Washington townships provide mutual aid for Jerome Township, he said.

For example, when the fire department in August responded to a house fire on Hinton Mill Road, the blaze required mutual aid from six departments, Stewart said.

The department’s low staffing total has other consequences besides safety, he said.

Jerome’s ISO rating is 5, whereas Washington Township – which supplies emergency services to that township and the city of Dublin – has a rating of 1, Stewart said. The ISO rating is used by insurance companies to set homeowners insurance rates, with 1 being the best rating and 10 being the worst, Stewart said.

Jerome had been at a 4 but fell to 5 primarily because of its personnel level and equipment, he said. ISO ratings affect both commercial and residential insurance costs, he said.

The department’s coverage area includes the expanding Jerome Village residential development and commercial growth along Industrial Parkway.

In 2010, U.S. census data indicated Jerome Township had a population of 7,541, Stewart said. For 2020, township leaders estimate the population could be approximately 12,000 residents, he said.

The township is employing multiple strategies to communicate about the levy request.

Stewart said supporters would visit residents door to door and leave campaign literature.

Because of the pandemic, the township will hold small community meetings with 10 or 12 people at a time, or larger ones that can be socially distanced outside.

The township also will schedule online meetings about the levy, posting schedules on social media and the township website, jerometownship.us, Stewart said.

“We’re trying every avenue possible,” he said.

Township trustee Megan Sloat said township leaders have been trying to find ways to reach out to residents safely during the pandemic.

In July, the trustees held a special meeting to talk about the fire levy and answered both remote and in-person questions from residents, Sloat said.

Trustees also participated in a socially distanced event at a food truck in the New California community, she said.

The weekend of Sept. 25, trustees and other volunteers walked in neighborhoods to distribute informational flyers on doors and porches and talk with residents whenever possible, she said.

“We have been encouraged by the number of residents who have reached out to the trustees via email, social media and livestream to ask questions and share comments about the levy,” Sloat said.

ThisWeek is unaware of any opposition groups to the levy.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah