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Township boundaries are a taxing issue

UNION TOWNSHIP- It’s complicated. Union Township stands to lose roughly $26,400 as the Licking County Auditor’s Office evens out the township’s inside millage.

“We chose Union Township (to begin) because it’s the worst one,” said Licking County Auditor Michael Smith. The auditor’s office’s job would also be easier if all the municipalities in the township were completely separated from Union Township, and not technically in both, and the Union Township Trustees would be happy if Hebron did so, because it may help the township pass levies. However, Hebron’s leaders may not agree.

Smith said that currently, not all Union Township properties are being taxed equally on inside millage which is the 10 mills of property taxation that isn’t required to be approved by voters. It may be only a matter of a few tenths of a mill between properties, but still, Smith says it’s unfair and all township residents need to be taxed equally. He said the slight differences in millage arose over time and and have been there a long time, but now is the time to solve it. The fix will cost township government some revenue in the process.

Additionally, Smith said that to the best of his knowledge, the City of Heath is the only municipality in Union Township that has “conformed its boundaries” and officially separated itself from the township.

As for the rest of Union Township, Hebron and Buckeye Lake residents live in their respective villages and in Union Township. “It’s sort of like layers,” said Smith. Buckeye Lake Village and Hebron residents can vote for township trustees and can also serve as a trustee. Currently, all three trustees live in the unincorporated areas of the township.

However, neither Buckeye Lake Village nor Hebron residents currently vote on Union Township tax levies nor pay them if adopted.

According to Hebron officials, the County Budget Commission, which consists of the county auditor, county prosecutor and county treasurer, told them last week that if Hebron remains in the township then Hebron residents would start voting on township tax issues AND paying them if adopted. Smith wasn’t sure whether Hebron residents would have to pay previously approved township tax levies such as the current 1.5 mill and 1.8 mill fire levies.

Monday night, Union Township Trustee President Rick Black said it could be detrimental to the township’s ability to pass an upcoming 1.5 mills fire levy if Village of Hebron voters also vote on the township fire levy because they already vote for Hebron fire levies and it’s doubtful that Hebron voters would agree to pay for a township fire levy in addition to Hebron levies they’re already paying. If Hebron conforms its borders, Hebron residents would vote on no township issues or elected officials.

Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason commented that it’s really not fair for the auditor’s office to tell Hebron voters that they can’t vote for the trustees. At this point, he’s not in favor of conforming Hebron’s boundaries.

The same situation applies in Buckeye Lake Village which has its own five mill fire renewal levy on the ballot. Buckeye Lake Mayor Rick Baker said administrators and council members have yet to discuss the issue.

Smith said Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said all Licking County municipalities could conform their borders and relieve 90 percent of the problem. But, Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb said although the commissioners have the authority to confirm boundaries with the swipe of a pen, he’d want to be extremely certain everyone affected would agree to do so. “I’d sure want full consensus,” he said. Confirming boundaries, said Bubb, could affect revenues at a time when local economies are struggling.

Adding to the confusion, Smith said areas of municipalities acquired through expedited annexation (a quicker version of annexation developed fairly recently) would not be separated from the township following confirmation. These properties would have to petition to deannex from the municipality, then petition to re-annex back into the municipality in a non-expedited manner in order to be completely confirmed into the municipality.

“Boundaries need to be conformed so annexations can be complete,” said Heath Mayor Mark Johns. “Getting these addressed makes sense for everyone involved. There’s not the confusion.” He said he’s working hard to conform the expedited annexation properties into the City of Heath.

Smith said these issues began with the creation of the first municipalities in Licking County. “This has been going on since the beginning of time,” he said. “It’s something we all inherited.”

In other township news:

• Union Township resident Gary Sitler, who president of Eleven Eagle Energy Exploration Ltd., told trustees Monday night he specializes in gas and oil exploration and the township “has some interesting prospects.” He wants to conduct some seismic tests to quantify the prospects.

Sitler said the process involves using a thumper truck and recording the resulting vibrations. It was done on Loudon Street outside Granville. “It’s very common stuff,” he said, adding that the vibrations aren’t severe and pose no threat to structures or individuals. Sitler said he’d agree to notify residents before any seismic tests take place. He hopes to begin in early August.

• Black said Wednesday that the township has begun construction of a 40’ x 60’ salt bin. “We poured footers today,” he said. Unexpected hurdles pushed back the bin’s construction by nearly two years. Trustees awarded Quality Excavation and Construction with the bid to build the $91,800 project.

• Trustees will hold a special meeting July 22, 9 a.m. to approve the final paperwork necessary to place a 1.5 mills fire levy on the November ballot. Black said the next regular trustees’ meeting is on Monday, Aug. 5, which is a little too close to the Aug. 7 filing deadline. Black said they will also work with Sitler to determine a schedule for seismic testing.

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