Third time a charm for Jerome Township 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 sought a renewal of a 2011 2.9-mill levy and an additional 2.9 mills, and voters approved the request Nov. 3.

The Jerome Township Fire Department firefighter roster will remain status quo, thanks to voters' approval of a levy request on the Nov. 3 general-election ballot.  

Jerome Township residents voted 2,514 to 2,299, or 52.23% to 47.77%, to renew a 2.9-mill levy originally approved in 2011 and add 2.9 mills, according to unofficial results from the Union County Board of Elections.

This was the third time in 12 months a fire-levy request was on the ballot.

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

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

The approved levy will add about $100 more per year to their tax bills, he said. 

Stewart said the approved levy is set to collect $1.2 million, and it will begin collecting in 2022.

He said the funding would allow the fire department to maintain nine new jobs established via a federal grant called SAFER, an acronym 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. 

The grant obligates the department to maintain the positions for the duration of its term, he said.

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

Although the levy funds allow the department to maintain the status quo, they also could create the opportunity to hire more staff members for a second station, Stewart said.  

“We’re going to be ready either way,” he said.

The department’s coverage area includes the expanding Jerome Village residential development and commercial growth along Industrial Parkway, both of which arrived in the past decade.

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.

As more people move into the area and start contributing to the levy payments, the levy's effective millage will be adjusted to continue to collect at the amount in which it was voted in, per state law, Stewart said.

Property-tax collections in future years could allow the department to move forward with the construction of the new fire station and hire additional staff members, Stewart said. Levy funds would be used to pay for staff members only, though, he said.

The cost of the new station will be funded through Nationwide Realty Investors, and the spot for the station already has been planned near Dublin City Schools’ new Abraham Depp Elementary School at 9105 Gardenia Drive in Jerome Village, Stewart said.

Part of the establishment of Nationwide Realty Investors’ Jerome Village included an agreement to donate land for a fire station and $5.5 million to build and equip it, Stewart said.

But even if the township trustees were to approve the construction of the station today, Stewart said, two years would pass before the department could operate from it because of the time that would be needed for design and construction.

In the meantime, Stewart said, he appreciates those who voted for the levy. As for those who didn’t, he said, “we hope to earn their support in the future.”  

Jerome Township trustee Megan Sloat said she wanted to thank voters for approving the fire levy.

Sloat said securing the firefighter/paramedic positions obtained through the SAFER grant would improve the safety of the community.

“We have been seeing a steady increase in calls in the last five years, and our emergency services need to grow along with our township,” she said. “This levy is an important step toward providing residents with better response times and levels of emergency services."

Jerome Village resident Fatema Baumgardner said she was pleased the fire levy was approved because it was needed. 

"I am relieved to know my fire department has what they need to provide adequate services to my house," she said. "My hope now is to see a new fire station in my neighborhood as soon as possible to improve run times to our homes."

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah