By Dedra Cordle
Three weeks ago, questions surrounding the financial outlook of the Jackson Township Fire Department had city officials hitting the pause button in support of its upcoming ballot measure. Now, they say they are ready to give it their backing.
At its meeting on Oct. 5, Grove City Council unanimously approved a resolution to endorse Issue 19, a 4-mill fire replacement levy that would run for a term of five years. According to the township’s website, the proposed fire levy equates to an estimated $140 annually per $100,000 in property market valuation.
Several members on council said their hesitance to support the measure last month stemmed from unanswered questions related to the department’s finances and its contingency plans should the levy be defeated on Nov. 3. It was a sentiment echoed by members of the city administration.
“Our history has certainly proven that our support of the township has been overwhelming and continues to be,” said Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage at its prior meeting, “but we represent the citizens of Grove City and the constituents that we represent need a much, much more thorough explanation for what they have done to save money and what they are going to do if the levy fails.”
Since the meeting on Sept. 21 took place, the council members and administration said that they have received additional information from the township officials which provided “clarity” for all of their questions and confidence in throwing their support behind the levy.
“I am very happy with our fire and police services,” said councilman Randy Holt, “and I want to support them. So I will be supporting this initiative when we vote and I look forward to the next time that we have an issue for improved communication and transparency (with the township).”
Present for the Oct. 5 meeting were representatives with the township. They were there to answer questions and provide further clarity for the public on why the levy is needed.
According to Fire Chief Randy Little, the department has put in place several cost saving measures throughout the years in order to extend taxpayer funding but it will no longer be feasible in the near future.
“Based upon the current projections, which does not factor in any additional or potential funding streams, we will be in a deficit in 2022,” he said.
Little added that this deficit has been “on the horizon” for a while now, which is why they have enacted conservative approaches to “stretch their dollar” such as maintaining and not increasing staffing levels, cutting overtime and leasing emergency medical equipment.
He said that should the ballot measure fail, the department will be in a troubling position but not so much that personnel cuts would need to be made.
“We would have to have to go through the budget with a fine-tooth comb and make a needs and wants list,” he said in a later interview with the Messenger. “We may have to eliminate training courses and put aside equipment purchases but we would not have to reduce our personnel at that time.”
In addition to a $280,000 deficit in carryover funds at the start of 2022 (the carryover funds are used to pay payroll and bills at the beginning of the year), Fiscal Officer Ron Grossman said at a prior township meeting that expenditures have risen significantly while the revenue remains flat. His projections from August reported that the fire fund had taken in $8 million while spending roughly the same amount and the EMS fund had taken in $877,000 while spending $1.4 million. He went on to report that future tax budget projections only show the gap widening.
Should the 4-mill temporary levy be approved, the township is estimated to generate anywhere between $4.9 million and $5.8 million annually, pending new home valuations.
And should that levy be approved, the city would also receive an unexpected windfall of $470,000 to $560,000 due to the way funds are distributed through Tax Increment Financing.
If the levy fails in November, Stage said the administration would be willing to recommend to council that it purchase two fire engines and five medics over the course of five years and cover two-year payments on equipment leases.
Little called that offer “very generous” and said it would provide a great alternative should the levy fail. He added that he was thankful for the support of the city.