Trustees explore options for fire levy

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

An uncertain financial outlook has officials in Jackson Township mulling the placement of a fire levy on the November ballot.

At the July 7 meeting, the board of trustees voted 2-1 to approve a resolution of necessity that would allow the county auditor to certify total current tax valuations and dollar amounts that would be generated by a 7-mill fire levy.

Fiscal officer Ron Grossman said this is not a request for dollars generated by a new levy, but that of the replacement of a continuous levy voters approved in 1985 with the same millage.

According to Grossman, the township is only collecting 2.6 mills from that 7-mill levy.

“That is a great reduction of what was originally voted for,” he said.

With this action, the county auditor will make an evaluation of current property tax dollars rather than valuations determined in the 1980s.

“The township could see an increase of up to $4 million, depending on what their research tells us,” he said.

Like many government entities, the township has been hit hard by the global pandemic. Grossman said real estate collections are down 20 percent and there could be numerous delinquencies regarding home owners or business owners paying their taxes on time, or at all.

“There are a lot of spaces sitting empty right now and we really don’t know what kind of delinquencies we will be dealing with,” Grossman said.

In addition to that aspect, Grossman said revenues are flat and expenditures are rising and will continue to rise.

“When I was elected to this position as fiscal officer (in 2011), the township had a payroll of less than a million dollars a month,” he said. “Now, we are currently over $1.5 million a month.”

He also said that an updated financial forecast model predicts that the fire department will not have enough of a positive balance to carry over to 2021.

Grossman said he believed that, should the 7-mill replacement levy be on the ballot and approved by voters, it would keep the fire department solvent for years to come.

He said he expects to hear the tax valuation projections from the auditor’s office within the next few days.

Trustee David Burris abstained from the vote with trustees Jim Rauck and Ron McClure voting to approve the resolution.

Burris said that while he is not against the idea of a fire levy, he does not feel it is the right time to place it on the ballot.

“I’m not saying that in the near future we won’t need a levy; I’m not saying that at all,” he said during the virtual meeting, “but we’re in the middle of a pandemic and the unemployment rate is at 13 percent right now. People are hurting and it’s no time for a tax increase.”

Rauck said he voted in favor of the resolution because, as trustees, they need to present to the voters an accurate look at the financial outlook of the fire department as it currently stands.

“Without a doubt it’s obvious that the cost of running a fire department has gone up and, as levies age, their millage rate they’ve delivered to us to operate on have decreased,” he said. “And, with the current state of the TIF district, it has limited some of our revenue greatly.”

He said it is not up to the trustees to decide whether a levy passes or fails, but rather they need to let the citizens make the decision as to whether they want to keep the same level of service.

Burris said he didn’t disagree with the rationale of Rauck and McClure, but added he believes different funding avenues could be researched before they ask the voters to approve a replacement levy. He mentioned accessing the general fund or seeking assistance from the city of Grove City.

One scenario he discussed was asking the city to raise their tax rate to 2.5 percent and sharing a small percentage with the township.

“They could give us a quarter percent and then keep a quarter percent and we’ll all be fat cats for a long time,” he said. “But nobody wants to talk to the city and ask them about that kind of stuff.”

He said what they need to do is “think outside of the box.”

“We just always want to go back to the taxpayer.”

The board has until Aug. 5 to decide whether it will place the 7-mill fire replacement levy on the November ballot. While a special meeting regarding the topic has yet to be scheduled, their next trustees meeting is on July 21 at 1:30 p.m. via Facebook Live.

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