Voters to make decision on township fire levy

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By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Facing a future of increasing runs and decreasing revenue, Madison Township is asking voters to approve a new 5.25-mill permanent fire levy on the May 5 ballot.

Trustee Victor Paini said fire and medical emergency runs have increased more than 50 percent since voters last approved a new fire levy nearly 13 years ago and he feels the township needs to take action to keep response times low.

If approved by voters, the township plans to build a $3.6 million station housing a new medic at 3232 Noe-Bixby Road on a parcel donated to Madison Township by the Franklin County Land Bank. It is the site of the razed Walnut Knolls apartment complex and its current market value is estimated at $140,700.

“We hope to repurpose the land for the township,” said Paini. “We want to make sure run times stay consistent at four minutes or under.”

According to Trustee Gary McDonald, the last time the northern section of the township had a local fire station was more than 30 years ago.

The levy would provide funds to build, purchase equipment, staff and run the facility projected for a late 2017 or early 2018 opening, in addition to replacing worn equipment at two other stations.

Fire Chief Robert Bates estimated the cost of the levy for the owner of a home with $100,000 of valuation is $15 a month. It would generate $3.2 million annually.

“The last time we came to the voters was in 2002,” said Bates, who reported annual calls at that time were approximately 3,600. In 2014 there were 6,295 calls for service. “We don’t see those numbers dropping. When I came here 14 years ago, there wasn’t the amount of development we see today. We need to keep up with the times.”

In responding to criticisms levied by residents regarding runs made by the township into Columbus and vice versa, Bates said the automatic aid partnership with the city and neighboring townships is a vital part of the department’s response protocol.

In 2014, Madison Township answered 2,834 calls outside the township because it was the nearest available emergency responder. During the same year, the township was on the receiving end of 2,810 automatic aid responses by neighboring departments.

“We’re not talking about a huge disparity, that’s only a difference of 24 runs,” said Bates. “We’re not going to get hung up on whose name is on the side of a truck.”

According to Bates, mutual aid also helps the department access equipment owned by other entities the township could not afford to purchase on its own, such as a $2 million ladder truck.

“That’s the value of automatic aid,” said Bates.

With one of the busiest medics in Franklin County, Bates said of the 13 township fire departments in the county, Madison Township has the second lowest effective millage rate and has gone the longest without a new levy.

“The township has been good stewards of the funds that the citizens have entrusted to them,” said Bates. “We have taken cost saving measures, eliminated four positions and been fiscally responsible.”

Bates said, since the last levy approval,  the department managed to work through the recession of 2009 and, in addition to reductions in receipts as a result of decreasing property values, the township also lost funding due to changes made by the state in the tangible personal property reimbursement, which resulted in an annual loss of $500,000.

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