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Licking Township voters approve 24/7 fire/EMS staffing

NEWARK – This time Licking Township voters were willing to increase their taxes to provide 24/7 on station staffing at the Licking Township Fire Company.

The additional three mill levy was approved by an unofficial 886 to 598 tally. Seven years ago voters narrowly rejected an additional three mill fire levy by 58 votes.

“Thank you to all the residents who supported the levy,” said Licking Township Trustee President Joe Hart. “The number of (fire and EMS) runs has grown significantly.”

Hart said the new levy will be first assessed in 2016 and collected beginning in 2017. Fire Chief Mike Wilson hopes the company can begin adding additional part-time staff slowly during 2016. “We’ve been in discussions to begin filling in hours,” he said. Wilson would like to see more staffing at the fire station by the middle of next year, with full staffing by 2017. Wilson will continue to be the only full-time employee.

Capt. Kyle Weekly stated previously that the levy will fund three firefighters on station 24/7/365 days a year. Personnel will be able to respond immediately and not have to wait for volunteers to get to the station.

Weekly said the Licking Township Fire Company is a part-time department relying on its volunteers. It has provided part-time coverage 71 percent of the time with at least one staff member on duty. Proper staffing requires at least two personnel for an ambulance and three for a fire truck. Last year, the company responded to 1,059 emergency calls, the most in department history. This year, it is projected to respond to 1,150 emergency calls.

Weekly said an increase in training demands, family responsibilities, high run volume, and financial demands are taking their toll on the fire department volunteers’ availability. Simply put, the number of volunteers is decreasing and the township needs to do something to ensure continued fire and EMS protection.

Wilson said he understands some residents are on fixed incomes and appreciates the public support. “It’s a great thing for our community and the fire department,” he said. “This gives us many things on which to move forward.”

Both Hart and fiscal officer Andrea Lynch ran unopposed for new terms, earning 1067 and 1041 votes, respectively.

In other Licking County ballot issues,

• Buckeye Lake Village residents will have to be patient before they know who exactly will be on the village council come January. Incumbents Robert Masone and Arletta Ruton are assured to return for four-year terms as Masone received 298 votes and Ruton 206.

“I’d like to thank everyone for allowing me to serve the community for another term,” Ruton said. She said one of the major challenges facing her and council members during the next four years will be trying to navigate the state’s replacement of Buckeye Lake’s 4.1-mile earthen dam and the strain the project has placed on the community. “We need to make sure the people are taken care of,” Ruton said. She said she hopes the council can work together and work with the state to provide the best possible services for village residents.

There are two more open positions on council as incumbents Jeryne Peterson and Barry Herron chose not to seek another term. Three write-in candidates are seeking those two seats: former council president Charlene Hayden, veterinarian Doug Poorman, and resident Thomas Wolfe. There were a total of 189 write-in votes, but Licking County Board of Elections Director Gloria Carson said it would be several days before the write-in votes are counted. She hopes they will be counted before the official election results are announced in by Nov. 24. Adding to the complexity, Wolfe was appointed to fill former council member Michelle McCormick’s position, with two years remaining. He may have the option of filling a four-year position, depending upon the number of write-in votes he received.

• Former Hebron Village Administrator Mike McFarland uprooted longtime Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason 299 votes to 282. Both McFarland and Mason have long histories with the village.

McFarland served on the Hebron Board of Public Affairs 1980 to 1989. He was hired as Hebron’s tax administrator in 1998, and then served as village administrator from Jan. 2002 to Dec. 31, 2011.

Mason’s service began in 1980 as a volunteer firefighter, joining the village council in 1989. He served on council for six years before becoming mayor, 1995 to present.

McFarland could not be reached for comment. He had surgery on Monday afternoon.

• Retired Hebron Fire Chief Randy Weekly garnered a strong win in the four-person race for the remaining two years of now County Commissioner Rick Black’s term. Weekly’s 736 votes bested Jeffrey Sharps’ 430, Terry Tackett’s 244 votes; and incumbent Bill McWilliams’ 199. McWilliams was appointed to fill Black’s position in January but had to face voters in November. Both Sharps and Weekly had sought the appointment.

“I’m honored so many people supported me,” Weekly said. He said everyone who ran for the position has the township’s best interests at heart and he is “honored and blessed” to be chosen from the large field of candidates. Weekly said it will be interesting for him to transition from local fire chief to trustee. “Now I’m looking at government from the other side,” he said.

Both Trustee John Slater and fiscal officer Jessica Slater ran opposed for another term, receiving 1283 votes and 1300 vote respectively.

• Union Township’s 1.8-mill replacement fire levy was approved

1231 in favor to 593 opposed.

• Lakewood School Board incumbent William Gulick won an additional term with 2608 votes. A total of 406 votes were cast for write-in candidates Melissa McBride and Steve Thorpe who were seeking the other seat. It could be several days to weeks before the write-in tallies are released.

• Licking County voters overwhelmingly defeated State Issue 3 that would have legalized marijuana by a 31,505 to 14,809 vote. One of the marijuana farms was to be located outside Pataskala.

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