Jackson Township fire levy may appear on November ballot

ALAN FROMAN
afroman@thisweeknews.com
Jackson Township firefighter/paramedic Steven McCague demonstrates new cleaning methods used after each medic run April 15 at the firehouse of Station 202, 3650 Hoover Road. The projected revenue carryover balance for the fire department has been declining and is expected to continue to decline over the next five years, fiscal officer Ron Grossman said, something exacerbated by expenses related to the pandemic.

Jackson Township's trustees voted June 23 to forward a "resolution of necessity for a renewal levy" to the Franklin County Auditor's Office, the first step to making a decision to place the 7-mill fire levy voters originally approved in 1985 on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Voters approved a 7-mill fire levy in 1985, one of six levies that have been approved since 1976 to fund the Jackson Township Fire Department.

All of the levies were permanent measures, but because of increased property values, their effective rates are being collected at lower millage rates, fiscal officer Ron Grossman said.

The 1985 levy under consideration for renewal is being collected at an effective rate of 2.6 mills, he said.

The levies and their rates are: 1976, approved at 2.6 mills, effective rate 0.657576 mill; 1977, approved at 2.4 mills, effective rate 0.606993 mill; 1982, approved at 2.0 mills, effective rate 0.717988 mill;1985, approved at 7.0 mills, effective rate 2.50581 mills; 1991, approved at 5.0 mills, effective rate 2.381545 mills; and 2014, approved at 3.75 mills, effective rate 3.236381 mills.

Combined, the six fire levies totaled 22.75 mills but are being collected at a total effective rate of about 10.2 mills, Grossman said.

A ballot measure in November would seek a renewal of only that specific level, Grossman said. A separate ballot measure would be needed to approve each individual levy.

Voters approved the township's last fire levy, a 3.75-mill measure, in November 2014.

The six fire levies provide about $13 million of the fire department's $15 million budget for 2020, Grossman said.

The levies are projected to generate about $6 million in collections from property-tax bills for the past six months of 2019, he said.

But that total could be less than projected if property owners are delinquent on making their full tax payments because of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Grossman said.

Ohio Tax Commissioner Jeff McClain in May approved Franklin County's request to delay the due date of second half 2019 real estate tax payments for 45 days until Aug. 5, 2020.

"If we're seeing a shortfall of 20% in the real estate tax collections that go to the fire department, that would mean a reduction of $1.2 million," Grossman said.

The projected revenue carryover balance for the fire department has been declining, and that is expected to continue over the next five years, he said.

The issue was exacerbated with the additional expenses resulting from the pandemic, including the purchase of about 40 half-mask air-purifying respirators earlier this year to increase the supply of the masks firefighters are wearing on every emergency run.

The trustees unanimously approved the resolution of necessity, but chairman David Burris said that although he wasn't necessarily against the idea of a levy, he thought voting to send the resolution of necessity was "putting the cart before the horse" when "we have no idea what our revenues are going to be.

"And let's be perfectly clear -- it is a tax increase, not a renewal," even if the levy would technically be considered a renewal, he said.

If revenues continue "to turn south for us," the resolution would allow the township to have the levy option in place if needed, trustee Ron McClure said.

"I just see this as a tool to help us keep our eye on the ball and making sure we're always able to provide the quality and level of service our citizens expect and that we've always delivered," trustee Jim Rauck said. "Knowledge is power and this is just some additional knowledge we need."

The deadline for filing a levy request with the Franklin Board of Elections for November is Aug. 7, Grossman said.

Jackson Township would need to hold a public hearing and a vote to proceed with the levy ahead of the filing date.

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