By Michelle Dupler
Franklin Township Fire Chief Rick Howard’s budgetary report painted a portrait of a department barely treading water.
Residents voted against a fire levy for a second time Nov. 5, which would have generated $800,000 per year.
The fire department anticipates about a $276,000 budget deficit in 2014, according to Howard. This is due to lost revenue from the state government, which shifted or eliminated taxes, like the tax on tangible property owned by businesses.
Fire department officials said they have made budget cuts including postponing the replacement of expensive equipment and freezing firefighter pay the last three years.
“The wild card is the transmission that blows up — the unforeseen expenses,” said Chris Grile, Franklin Township assistant fire chief.
The only way to balance their budget is with layoffs, according to fire department officials. This could be avoided if trustees cover the department’s budget gap from the general fund and consider another fire levy next year.
Howard said losing more money could lead to disbanding the fire department. Laying off firefighters or paramedics would also mean fewer ambulance calls, which could result in more lost revenue.
Closing the fire department would affect the township’s ability to attract investors, according to Howard. It could also result in higher rates for homeowners insurance.
“We can look back at the things the township has lost because we didn’t have (enough) fire or police protection,” he said.
No formal action was taken at the Nov. 12 meeting, but the trustees agreed they did not want to see firefighters or paramedics laid off.
“As far as I’m concerned, there will be no cuts. We’ll get by on this. There will have to be some sacrifices,” Trustee Paul Johnson said.
They also agreed next November would be a better time to try another fire levy.
“I don’t think we should go for another levy in the spring,” Trustee Don Cook said. “We need to educate the people for a year and come back in the fall.”
Cook suggested forming a citizen committee that included people who opposed the levy. If some of those people could be convinced the levy is needed then it may have a chance of passing next year, he said.
Trustee chair Tim Guyton said they have worked on an agreement with the city of Columbus to share tax revenues from the Hollywood Casino. The deal was approved by township trustees in September, but is awaiting approval by Columbus City Council.
The casino agreement allows for the creation of joint economic development zones that could boost commercial development in the township and replace revenue lost by the closure of Westland Mall, according to officials.