City officials question township’s fire levy

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Questions surrounding the financial outlook of the Jackson Township Fire Department has city officials hitting the pause button on supporting its upcoming ballot measure.

At its meeting on Sept. 21, the Grove City Council approved a request to table a resolution to endorse Issue 19, a new 4-mill fire replacement levy that would run for a term of five years. The reason for the postponement, officials said, was due to their need for further clarification regarding the department’s current financial situation and its projected financial future.

Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage said that he was “neutral” on the ballot measure at this time because he believes that the township officials need to do a better job at providing information on the subject.

“Our history has certainly proven that our support of the township has been overwhelming and continues to be,” he said, “but we represent the citizens of Grove City and the constituents that we represent, in my estimation, need a much, much more thorough explanation of what they have done to save money and what they are going to do if the levy fails.”

Stage went on to say that he would also like to hear an explanation as to why the township never formally responded to correspondence that was sent prior to their approval to place the measure on the ballot that offered potential financial assistance. That letter, he said, requested a meeting with the trustees to do “in-depth studying of what we could do, including possibly sharing more TIF revenue.”

The correspondence Stage was referring to was an outline of what measures could be taken to provide financial assistance to the fire department, which serves the city for fire and medical emergency services. It was sent on July 31, just a few days before the board of trustees had to vote upon whether to send a proposed ballot initiative to the board of elections.

In the meeting that followed the letter, trustees Jim Rauck and Ron McClure said that while they did want to discuss potential funding opportunities for the department, they needed to be more “proactive” for the situation on hand. Trustee Dave Burris voted against the measure, stating that they needed to come up with a plan that included the assistance of the city and not the taxpayer during a pandemic.

The Messenger reached out to the Township Administrator Shane Farnsworth after the council meeting for a comment regarding Stage’s statement that the township did not formally respond to the city’s correspondence. He said that discussions are “on-going” and that the township is willing to sit down with the city to discuss any item that could serve both entities.

Like Stage, councilman Randy Holt said he would like to see a more detailed financial picture.

“I am going to support this based on the conversations I have had with the township representatives several times, but there’s still just a few numbers and statistics I’d like to see for the future.”

Council president Christine Houk said that was she in support of the ballot measure and that the financial hardships of the fire department has been obvious for quite some time. Regardless, she did request that the resolution of support for Issue 19 be tabled until the Oct. 5 meeting so any financial questions can be clarified by the township.

Township Fiscal Officer Ron Grossman was present at the meeting, reiterating the current financial outlook of the department. He said that projections of the fire fund and the EMS fund balances continue to decline, while the expenditures continue to climb and the revenue remains flat.

He did not provide financial projections at the meeting, but during his last financial report at the trustee’s meeting, he reported that the fire fund has taken in $8 million while spending roughly the same amount and the EMS fund has taken in $877,000 while spending $1.4 million. That report went on to state that future tax budget projections only show the gap between expenditures and revenue widening.

Should voters approve Issue 19, the department would generate roughly $4.96 million annually to fund fire and emergency service. According to the township’s website, the proposed fire levy rate equates to an estimated $140 per year per $100,000 in market value. The levy would be effective from Jan. 1, 2021 and end Dec. 31, 2025.

While the council and administration did not yet agree to endorse the measure, they say that is not a reflection on the fire department itself or the quality of services they offer.

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