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Fire chief: Three-mill fire levy needed

JACKSONTOWN- Licking Township Fire Company Chief Mike Wilson told Licking Township Trustees Monday night he would like the township to place an additional three-mill permanent fire levy on the ballot.

“I know you guys know how busy we are,” Wilson said. He said the fire company has been working with the same two mills since the fire company was created. The company is now doing twice as many runs and paperand work has increased exponentially. “It’s the same two people trying to do all the runs,” Wilson said.

He said the company really relies on its volunteers. Wilson said the fire company has the lowest millage in Licking County but is the busiest station. The staff, Wilson said, is overworked and there’s little in monetary carryover from year to year. “We have to be proactive and make sure we get ahead of this thing,” he said.

Wilson said Tuesday two-mills would only be a “short-term fix,” while it would help with staffing, he is concerned there would no “wiggle room” with income and the company may have to go back to the voters within several years. Wilson said an additional three-mill levy would provide the fire company financial stability for the next 10 or 15 years.

Wilson said currently the company’s volunteers are being pushed beyond reasonable expectations. “I have to recognize when they are overworked,” he said. Wilson’s goal with the income from the additional levy is to staff the station with two part-time paramedics and one part-time EMT basic at all times. None of the part-time employees would receive benefits. He would be a fourth person on staff when on duty.

Trustee President Joe Hart said there are a couple reasons why the timing may be tough to pass a levy. First, he said the township would like to begin EMS soft billing to non-residents transported by the fire company; EMS billing would not affect Licking Township residents. Soft billing means Licking Township would accept whatever it receives from Medicare, Medicaid or insurance companies for patient transports. There’s no effort to collect amounts not paid by insurance or charges for uninsured residents. EMS billing may provide the fire company $10,000 or $20,000 extra revenue per year.

Hart said there is also an issue with the River Oaks condominiums’ request to separate itself from Licking Township. Previously, Bill Settles, president of the River Oaks Homeowners Association, told Licking Township Trustees that River Oaks continues to pay taxes to Licking Township even though it receives none of its services.

The condominium community is now in the City of Heath, but also remains in Licking Township after being annexed to Heath. So the community pays taxes to both Licking Township and Heath. “The time has come to be released to Heath,” he said, adding that the River Oaks residents would have nothing to gain by supporting township levies.

Licking County Auditor’s Office personnel told The Beacon that these were Expedited II annexations from Licking Township to Heath City. In the case of Expedited II annexations, parcels are forever simultaneously part of the city and the township, subject to the taxing authority of both the city and the township, and cannot be conformed.

Hart said the auditor’s office gave him a similar explanation, but the Licking County Prosecutor’s Office told him to forget about River Oaks being “conformed,” and to work out an annexation agreement with the City of Heath. As long as the township initiates an annexation agreement and Heath agrees to it, then River Oaks could completely separate from the township. Hart said the prosecutor’s office would write up the language for the annexation agreement.

“They’re having some legal issues in how to do this,” Hart said. “They’re looking at alternative ways to relieve them of the tax burden.” He said this could affect the township’s perceived integrity because he told the River Oaks residents that the issue was resolved, and now problems are arising.

The bottom line, Hart said, is River Oaks residents are bound to vote against any levies until the matter is completely resolved and those residents no longer have a vote in Licking Township. “It could be 100 votes against what we’re trying to accomplish,” Hart said. “It’s not good timing.”

“I’m all for (EMS) billing non-residents,” Wilson said, but he doesn’t want trustees to overestimate the revenue generated through EMS billing.

Hart said a two-mill levy plus EMS billing income would at least help the fire company for the next several years. He said he’d like to the see the numbers from the Licking County Auditor for the proposed levy.

Trustees took no action Monday night to place a levy on any ballot. Instead, they will review the information Wilson presented them and discuss the proposed levy at a future meeting.

In other township news:

• Trustees met in executive session to discuss road supervisor Steve Patterson’s request that the township road crew’s wages be increased. Following the executive session, Trustee Dave Miller said, “There will not be any wage increases at this time for full-time employees.” Miller said intermittent employees would be evaluated and reviewed when the township has employed them for one year.

• Trustees unanimously welcomed Wyatt Letki as an EMT basic volunteer on the fire company staff. Previously, Letki went to both regionals and state competitions for victim treatment. His group placed second in the state and will be traveling to Anaheim, California June 23 to compete in the nationals.

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