Firefighters in Franklin Township want voters to know they are not trying to alarm residents with dire predictions if their upcoming levy does not pass. They are just presenting the facts.
“We don’t want it to be felt as a threatening thing. It’s not a scare tactic, it’s just a reality,” said Capt. Mark Kidd.
Kidd and Lt. Chris Grile are working hard as the unofficial campaign managers to ensure the public has all the information about the levy possible.
The 3.89-mill fire levy will be listed as Issue 68 on the Nov. 4 ballot.
According to Kidd, this levy is necessary for the township to maintain the current level of service the fire department delivers to residents. If passed, it will cost an additional $119 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home, and possibly less for those who qualify for the Homestead Tax Exemption.
“Our five-year budget projections show a deficit occurring by the end of calendar year in 2009 unless additional funding is obtained or cuts are made,” said Kidd. “Also, the reason that we are asking for the levy now is that if passed in November of 2008, new monies will not be collected until November of 2009.”
Kidd explained the way the property tax system works is that even though Ohio starts collecting general taxes on Jan. 1, 2009, property taxes are not collected or distributed to entities like fire departments till later in the year.
“It starts on Jan. 1, however you pay taxes in arrears so you will actually pay your 2009 tax at the end of 2010. Right now we are paying the 2007 property tax. You are always a year behind on your property tax,” said Capt. Kidd.
Grile said if the levy does not pass, the fire department eventually will have to reduce the services they provide and possibly personnel.
Also according to Grile, the closest neighboring fire stations are Jackson Township and other areas of Columbus, meaning depending on them will drastically increase the response time to an emergency.
“United States fire stations should be able to respond to emergencies in six minutes. The current response time for Franklin Township is five minutes. We meet the six minute standard 80 percent of the time,” said Grile.
He said response time is determined by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) who sets the national standard for fire prevention and fire related issues. The USFA assembled statistics that said a fire doubles in size every minute it is a live fire and after eight minutes a person is eight times more likely to perish.
“That eight-minute mark you’re drastically more in danger than prior to that,” said Grile.
Someone suffering a stroke or heart attack might experience delays as well, he added.
“In those two situations, they really go by the mantra that time is muscle; every minute it takes to get to decisive care, or one of our local emergency room teams, every minute is more damage to that organ. The sooner we’re able to start the treatment, the better outcome that person’s going to have,” he said.
One of the reasons for the department’s financial hardship is the Ohio Tax Credit, according to Franklin Township Fire Chief Richard Howard.
In 2005, former Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed tax reform measures into law that cut the personal income tax by 21 percent over five years but also eliminated the business tax on new machinery and equipment and inventory, which is part of how the fire department received its funding.
“That’s in my budget,” said Howard. “That’s almost 21 percent of what taxpayers currently voted on for me to subsidize my fire department. In a matter of a few years, that money’s gone and it’s going straight to the state of Ohio. So what do I do to deliver you the same standard of service as you’re accustomed to? I don’t know the answer.”
Kidd and Grile have coordinated firemen going door-to-door to explain the issues concerning the levy and said most of the people have responded well.
“When you’re sitting down with them and you tell them why you’re doing what you’re doing, they understand. Some people are unaware of the services we provide and the interaction between us and city of Columbus,” said Kidd.
According to Kidd, if the levy is not passed Nov. 4, there will be consequences. Some resulting cuts might be retiring personnel not being replaced. Further on, it could include losing the service of the medic truck.
“You’ll see the effects of not passing the levy immediately. If there’s only “x” number of dollars in the pot, the pot will be empty eventually. The department will start through attrition but a layoff is inevitable,” said Kidd. “They’ll try to go as long as they can making sure we have the staffing to run everything. Once you get past that point of no return though, it would be difficult to bring it back.”
Kidd echoed Howard by noting the fire department does their best at being frugal with the funds they are entrusted with. It will be up to the voters to decide if it is enough.
“This is kind of the do-or-die, period,” Kidd said.