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Trustees take first step to put new 3-mill fire levy on ballot

MILLERSPORT – Walnut Township Trustees unanimously took the first step Tuesday night to put an additional three-mill continuing levy for fire/EMS services on the May ballot.

Trustees discussed a possible additional levy at their December meeting with Millerport Fire Chief Bob Price and Walnut Township/ Thurston Fire Chief Jim Hite.

If voters approve, the new three-mill levy would supplement the current continuing voted six mill levies. Both departments need additional resources to increase pay rates for their part-time firefighters and medics.

Hite explained Tuesday night that he wants to increase pay rates, in increments, from the current $9 per hour for firefighters to $11 and from the current $11 per hour for medics to $13. “We are the lowest paid part-time (in the county),” he explained. A $1 per hour increase across the board would increase annual costs by about $30,000, Hite said. The jointly owned department (50:50 Walnut Township and Village of Thurston) also needs some equipment upgrades.

Millersport currently pays $10 per hour for firefighters and $12 per hour for medics. Price believes their pay scale will have to increase to attract enough part-timers to fill their schedules at the Millersport and Fairfield Beach stations. Competition for part-timers will be increasing this year as both the Licking Township Fire Company and the Thorn Township Fire Department move to 24/7 paid staff on station.

The December discussion focused on a 2.5 to 2.75 mill additional levy. Millersport Assistant Chief Rob Robinson said Tuesday night that those rates just weren’t enough. Trustees agreed. “We’re at the bottom of the pay scale in the county,” Trustee Chair Doug Leith said. “We need to be competitive.”

A three mill additional levy would cost property owners $105 per year per $100,000 valuation and raise about $654,000 a year. Thurston Mayor Mary Boring and Fiscal Officer Aaron Reedy, who had been invited to the meeting to discuss possibly taking over payroll duties for the joint department, supported the three-mill amount. Both said the village intends to drop its 2.5 mill fire levy if the new levy is approved. That levy which raises about $12,500 a year is on top of the voted six mills that all township residents pay.

Trustees thought turning over payroll Thurston might allow them to get around the provision in state law that townships can not pay a part-time fire fighter/medic for more than 1,500 hours in a year. That provision, which is unique to Ohio, is directed at townships; villages and cities are not mentioned. Hite discussed the possible turnover with attorneys at the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association who advised that turning over payroll responsibilities to a village would not get around the 1,500 hour limit since the township owned 50 percent of the department.

Both Boring and Reedy greeted this news with surprise and in Boring’s case anger at Hite. The village has already changed banks to accommodate the turnover and village council had approved it. Trustees concluded that there is no reason to turnover payroll since the 1,500 annual hour limit will still apply.

In other business Tuesday night, trustees unanimously directed Zoning Inspector Mike Berry to issue a permit to a North Bank property owner would wants to add to the second story of his dam-side home. The action came after Berry reported that the permit was on hold until ODNR dam tender Pete George approved the project. Berry told trustees that the project would not change the home’s footprint or foundation. All the work would be done on the second floor.

“He (George) has no authority on our zoning,” Trustee Bill Yates said. “We have no legal basis to stop it.” Yates added that the township could be sued for holding up a zoning permit when there is no legal justification for the delay. If ODNR has a problem with the project, let them take it up with the property owner, Yates added. Trustees asked Berry to tell George that the permit is being issued.

Berry also presented the 2016 zoning report:

• 87 permits were issued; one more than in 2015;

• Three variances were issued; no areas were rezoned;

• Permits were issued for 16 new homes; 15 home additions; 19 accessory buildings and sheds; 29 porches, pools, fences and decks; and five for agriculture exempt buildings.

After some discussion, trustees unanimously decided to ask the Division of Liquor Control to schedule a hearing in Lancaster on an application by Andy Wolfe for a D-5 liquor permit for the yet to be built Beach Top Market at 5095 Fairfield Beach Road. Wolfe reportedly plans to build a gas station/convenience store with carryout at that site. The site was rezoned to B-3 several years ago.

“I would like to hear from the public,” Trustee Terry Horn said. “I would too,” Leith added.

Road supervisor Tim Morris reported that construction has started on the joint fueling station being built at the township garage. The facility would be shared by the Village of Millersport, Walnut Township Schools and the township. Permits are in hand but there are multiple interim inspections, Morris said. “I think it will save us money,” Leith said.

Trustees also unanimously reappointed Greg Groves to a fiveyear term on the Zoning Commission and Ron Sharpe to a five-year term on the Board of Zoning Appeals. Berry said two candidates, Ben Patterson and T. J. Upp, are interested in vacancies on the two boards. Trustees plan to interview them at their February meeting.

During the annual organizational meeting that preceded the regular meeting, Leith was selected as chair and Horn will continue as vice-chair. Larry Neely will continue to represent the township at the Regional Planning Commission. Yates will be the township’s liaison with FEMA, Horn with the Block Grant/CDBG Board and Leith on the health department’s District Advisory Council.

The monthly regular meeting will continue to be held at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month at the township office. The third Thursday of the month will continue as the backup meeting date if needed. Such meetings will be public-noticed when scheduled.

Trustees will need to a set a special meeting later this month to take the final action to place the three-mill additional fire levy on the May ballot. That meeting could be held on Thursday, January 19, if trustees have received the required certification from the county auditor’s office on the proposed levy.

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