Jackson Township seeking voter approval of fire levy

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Jackson Township Fire Department firefighters Joe Grace and Mitch Shroyer (not pictured) check the hydraulic tools on some of the department’s vehicles. Voters will weigh in on Issue 19, a 4-mill, five-year operating levy for the department on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Jackson Township has placed a five-year, 4-mill fire levy on the Nov. 3 ballot that officials say would continue meeting the demands of fire and emergency medical services for a growing community.

If voters approve Issue 19 for the Jackson Township Fire Department, it would be expected to generate $4.96 million annually, trustee Ron McClure said.

Property owners would pay an additional $140 each year per $100,000 of home valuation, he said.

“We want to continue the current level and quality service our growing community deserves,” McClure said. “Our local-government fund continues to decrease, our personal-property tax has gone to zero, our Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements have remained flat for several years all due to state and federal changes.”  

The levy would help the fire department keep up with a growing demand for fire and EMS service in a community seeing increases in development and population, trustee Jim Rauck said.

The fire department serves residents and businesses in Jackson Township, Grove City and Urbancrest, and residents in each community will vote on the levy.

Jackson Township made 10,000 fire and emergency runs in 2019, and the number has grown at a rate of about 5% each year, McClure said, while staffing levels have been flat since the township’s last levy in 2014.

The fire department will have a balanced budget through 2021 but would be forced to make cuts in 2022 without the levy, he said.

The $4.9 million in additional funds from the levy would provide about a 25% increase in revenue for the fire department, Rauck said.

The department’s annual budget is about $18 million, he said.

If voters approve the levy, the measure would be effective from Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec. 31, 2025.

“This will allow us to continue to provide our community with the level of service they expect and deserve,” said Rick Dawson, who worked 35 years with the fire department.

Dawson, whose service included about 20 months as chief before his retirement in November 2015, is serving as chairman of Citizens for a Safer Grove City, the levy-campaign committee.

“As our costs are rising and the population is growing, the demand for service is higher,” Dawson said. “Over the last 20 years, our firefighters have had to become prepared to deal with terrorism and the impact of SARS, the H1N1 flu and now COVID.”

The levy would provide funds for the expenses of general operations, including the purchase and maintenance of fire and EMS equipment and tools and personnel costs, McClure said.

The additional revenue also would help cover the cost of about $750,000 in deferred building maintenance at the department’s four fire stations and the costs of the township’s participation in vehicle-leasing programs, Dawson said.

McClure and Rauck voted in August to place the levy on the ballot.

Trustee Dave Burns said he wouldn't campaign against the levy, but he voted against putting it on this year’s ballot.

“My ‘no’ vote had nothing to do with the employees of our fire department. We have a great fire department, and our people provide service that is second to none,” Burris said.

The fire department’s budget is projected to stay in the black until the end of next year, even without a new levy, he said.

“I just don’t know what the 911 was all about and why we needed to go to the ballot this year,” he said. “We have money in the general fund we could use” if reserves are depleted by unforeseen expenses.

A few days before the trustees voted on whether to go to the ballot, Grove City officials sent the township a letter, expressing their willingness to discuss potential ways the city could provide some funding for the fire department, he said.

“Perhaps if we had waited and seen what the city could have provided, we may have been able to have a levy that was only 2 or 1.5 mills,” Burris said.

Asking residents to approve a tax increase during a pandemic and economic downturn made no sense to him, he said.

“I’ve had people tell me they’re afraid we’re going to tax them out of their house,” Burris said.

McClure said he and Rauck thought “because the township will be in deficit spending towards the end of 2021, (it was) imperative to be proactive and bring the question before the community this fall.

“Our current expenses are more than we are bringing in,” he said. “We are balancing our budget and maintaining our service to the community through our reserves.”

“We don’t want to wait too long and risk a crash landing with our reserves if unexpected expenses occur,” Rauck said.

Going to the ballot this year gives voters a chance to have their say, he said.

If their answer is ‘no,’ the township would still have some time to regroup and come up with a revised levy proposal before the bottom falls out of revenue sources, Rauck said.

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