Jackson Township trustees not united on resolution for possible levy
CORRECTION: Jackson Township trustees approved two resolutions of necessity for a possible fire levy to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. One is for replacement of an existing 7-mill permanent levy and the other is for a new 4-mill, five-year levy. Because of a reporter's error, the print and previous online version of this story indicated only one resolution had been approved.
Jackson Township trustees have approved two resolutions of necessity for a fire levy, a part of a process that could lead to a measure being placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The resolutions request the Franklin County Auditor's Office to certify the amount of revenue that would be generated by two options. One is for a replacement of an existing 7-mill permanent levy voters approved in 1985. The other, approved in 2-1 vote at the trustees' July 21 meeting, is for a new 4-mill, five-year levy. Trustees Ron McClure and Jim Rauck voted in favor of seeking certification of the 4-mill option and David Burris voted against it. The trustees have not decided which levy they would consider placing on the ballot.
The fire division has several levies in place now, with the effective millage rates decreasing over time as property values increase, per state law:
* 1976, approved at 2.6 mills, effective rate 0.658 mill
* 1977, approved at 2.4 mills, effective rate 0.607 mill
* 1982, approved at 2.0 mills, effective rate 0.718 mill
* 1985, approved at 7.0 mills, effective rate 2.506 mills
* 1991, approved at 5.0 mills, effective rate 2.381545 mills
* 2014, approved at 3.75 mills, effective rate 3.236 mills.
The five-year duration of the proposed 4-mill levy would mean the township would have to bring it back to the ballot for voter approval to extend it past its scheduled expiration.
Upon certification, the trustees will schedule a special meeting to review the options and determine whether to proceed with a ballot measure in November.
The motion to proceed would be set for the special meeting, not the board's next regular meeting because of the Aug. 3 filing deadline for the Nov. 3 election.
Fiscal officer Ron Grossman said there are two main reasons why a replacement levy is preferred over a renewal measure.
One reason is the change in state law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2006, regarding tax-increment-financing districts, or TIFs.
A TIF is an economic-development mechanism available to local governments to finance public-infrastructure improvements and, in certain circumstances, residential rehabilitation, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency.
A TIF locks in the taxable worth of real property at the value it holds at the time the authorizing legislation is approved, diverting resulting incremental revenue to designated uses, such as funding necessary improvements or infrastructure to support a new development.
Revenue that exceeds the locked-in valuation of the land is diverted from the entities that typically receive property-tax revenue, including school districts, parks districts, libraries and fire departments.
Starting in 2006, if a new TIF district were established and a voted levy were approved, levy funds would not be diverted to the jurisdiction establishing the TIF.
"If we don't replace them, these old levies are still always going to be left out of the new TIF areas that are (approved)," Grossman said.
The second point relates to the property-tax rollbacks totaling 12.5% and homestead exemptions offered to qualified homeowners.
Levies passed prior to November 2013 were subject to the rollback even if they were renewed after that date. Levies passed after November 2013 are not.
A replacement levy would do away with the rollbacks and homestead exemption on the new levy, and the county would collect all of the taxes as billed and deposit the proceeds with the township, Grossman said.
Fire-fund revenue is projected to be stable, with some growth unless the economy goes into a recession or the state runs out of money and can't reimburse local governments, he said.
The EMS fund's revenue has been down a bit for the second quarter because of lowered EMS transport billing, but it is projected to be flat, Grossman said.
"It's the growth of expenditures and budgeted appropriations that are outstripping projected revenues, causing the fund balances at the end of the year to go down," he said. "There are lots of uncertainties."
Burris said he believes the township is moving too fast trying to get a levy on the November ballot and the board of trustees hasn't done its full due diligence regarding the issue.
"We're putting the cart before the horse," he said.
The trustees should "sit down as a group" with the township's chief administrative officer, Shane Farnsworth, and Grossman and "have a workshop," Burris said.
"We've not done that," he said. "We've just pulled the numbers out of our head.
"We're just jumping the gun" without having a clearer picture of what the township's revenue will look like over the next year or so, Burris said. "It may be worse than expected. It may be better than expected. I just don't understand what the 911 is (to put a levy on the ballot this year)."
The budget numbers show the projected revenue carryover balance "is going down" due to increased expenses, Grossman said.
The projections show "nothing but negative balances going out after next year," he said.
The budget data is the basis for the proposed levy millage, McClure said.
The 4-mill, five-year proposal has not been "pulled out of our head," he said.
The fire-revenue balance will be "going to the edge" in another year, at the end of 2021, McClure said, "and we've been trying to move forward and do something.
"We wouldn't be here" if a larger millage amount had been presented to and approved by voters in 2014, the last time the township placed a fire levy on the ballot, he said.
In 2014, voters approved a 3.75-mill permanent levy.
"We're running out of money" because that millage level was too low to meet the fire department's long-term needs, McClure said.
"We need to do something that gives the voters an opportunity to say yes or no," he said. "I don't see anything wrong with asking the voters (and) letting them decide."
The budget projections are "a true forecast, when we look at expenses going up and the cost of equipment and personnel and everything else," Rauck said. "We're not adding anything new. We're just trying to sustain the kind of service our citizens are used to.
"In emergency services we need to look down the road and be prepared ahead of time. We can't wait until it's a situation of cut, cut, cut and drop services."
Going to the ballot this year would give the township some additional time "to regroup" and revise a levy proposal if voters would reject the 4-mill measure, McClure said.