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Trustees table levy request for 24/7 fire staffing

JACKSONTOWN – After more than an hour of discussion, Licking Township Trustees Monday night unanimously agreed to table Fire Chief Mike Wilson’s request to place a continuing or permanent three mill levy on the November ballot.

The proposed levy would raise an estimated $381,000 a year. The township fire company is currently funded by two one-mill five-year levies that bring in $258,000 a year. That’s enough to pay the full-time chief and paid part-time personnel on station weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday through Thursday nights from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The paid part-time staff work out of the company’s Franklin Township station on weekends.

Wilson proposed to use the additional levy income to fund three 24/7 positions to be filled by part-time medics and EMTs. Parttime employees are limited to a maximum of 1,500 hours per year.

Wilson proposed paying the medics $13 per hour and the EMTBasic $11 an hour. The three 24/7 positions would cost an estimated $359,614 a year including Social Security, Medicare and workers compensation. His proposal to earmark all the revenue from a new levy to paying for staff concerned Trustee President Joe Hart.

He doesn’t want trustees’ ability to manage the fire company compromised by an earmark. Wilson wants to set aside the $130,000 currently used for part-time staffing from the two one-mill levies.

That cushion, as he called it, would be used to purchase new equipment and possibly a new fire station some day while not having to going back to voters for more money.

“I’m preparing every day for the rainy day I don’t see,” Wilson told trustees. “ I think we need to prepare for the future and don’t keep coming back.”

Wilson calculated that the company could operate through 2020 without additional revenue if voters approve the 3 mill levy and keep renewing the two one-mill levies. That would allow a three percent pay increase every other year.

“We’ve waited three years to come back,” Wilson added. Township voters narrowly defeated a very similar proposal in November 2008. “We just need help,” he added.

Wilson acknowledged that the timing is tight to make the November ballot and apologized for not bringing up his proposal earlier. Trustees and Fiscal Officer Jill Linn questioned whether there was enough time to get the prosecutor’s office to draft the levy language, then get the auditor’s office to certify the amounts and hold two trustee meetings, all before the August 10 filing date.

“I know it is going to be a tough sell,” Wilson told trustees. He said 24/7 on station staffing could knock six to seven minutes off response times compared to when he has to first come from his Harbor Hills home to the fire station. The fire company makes about 800 runs a year including mutual aide to neighboring departments plus about 100 runs a year on each of its two contracts – Bowling Green and Franklin townships.

“I’m struggling with adding that extra mill without a plan,” Hart said. “We’re asking residents to vote an extra mill for a cushion.”

“The budget could tighten up in a few years,” Wilson responded. “I’m just putting the need out there guys,”

Trustee Dave Miller agreed that the timing isn’t right. “We’re working on a garbage contract to save people $15 a month,” he said. Miller feels residents might not vote for any new taxes after hearing about the township’s more than $3 million estate tax windfall. Both Miller and Trustee Ron Acord favored waiting until the May 2012 ballot.

“Here’s the only drawback to May,” Wilson explained. “We have a one mill up in November.” He wondered if voters would renew a one mill levy if voters had just approved a three-mill permanent levy.

He pointed out that Licking Township’s two one-mill fire levies are the second lowest fire millage in the county. “We’re doing it cheaper and better than most communities,” Wilson said.

After Acord and Miller said they wanted to wait until May, Hart agreed.

In other business Monday night, Miller presented the township’s resurfacing plan for this year. Projects to be bid are:

• Davis Road from the railroad crossing to Lake Drive;

• Lancaster, Lexington, Zanesville and Mt. Vernon avenues in the Avondale area;

• White Chapel to Lake Drive including resurfacing the bridge with the county to reimburse the township for the bridge resurfacing; and

• Completely rebuilding the now concrete Amherst Drive in Harbor Hills. Specifications are a bit up in the air. One plan calls for removing the concrete, crushing it and then reusing it as a base for the new asphalt roadway.

The resurfacing bids will be due on Saturday, August 13 and will be opened at the Monday, August 15 regular trustees meeting. That meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Licking Township Fire Company Station #3 on Jacksontown Road (0hio 13) just north of US 40.

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