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Walnut Township to consider property maintenance code

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT – Walnut Township Trustees are considering joining with several other Fairfield County townships to adopt and most importantly, enforce, a property maintenance code.

Trustees are increasingly frustrated with their inability to address dilapidated and/or junk-ridden properties. For example, later in the meeting they spent nearly 30 minutes discussing the contents of a letter to the owners of a Fairfield Beach property that’s been eyesore for at least 10 years. The discussion included past referrals to the health department, letters from the township zoning inspector and voluntary help to clean up the junk. While some short-term progress has been made over the years, the property soon reverts back to its junky state. Trustees’ tools to force cleanup are limited and time consuming, particularly if the owners continue to pay property taxes. The letter was ultimately toned down due to the township’s inability to make some of the necessary determinations without the required professional expertise or the ability to come on the property for an inspection.

Trustee Terry Horn asked Fairfield County Commissioner Dave Levacy for some background on a budding effort for several townships to work together on a property maintenance code. “It is easier not to address it than to address it,” Levacy explained. He said Millersport spent nearly 10 years trying to clean up the old Sohio station on Lancaster Street. Even though the owner had not paid property taxes for years, that foreclosure and the cleanup nearly fell through because the unpaid taxes exceeded the value of the property and would not be discharged in the foreclosure process. Levacy said the new county land bank, which can discharge back taxes, saved the day. The long-time eyesore is now Mathias Miller Park.

The land bank has also acquired some Fairfield Beach properties via foreclosures, but it’s not an option if the owner continues to pay taxes and any mortgages, Levacy said. He said one junk property in an area can pull down property values by tens of thousands of dollars and even more for next door neighbors. “It is not fair to the residents that have nice places,” Levacy explained.

Levacy said Violet Township is moving ahead with a property maintenance code and Liberty Township also has some interest. Several other townships also have some interest. While it might be six to 12 months down the road, Levacy said four townships could share a professional code enforcement officer, making it much more affordable. The uniform standard has existed for years; townships would just have to adopt it via resolution. Enforcement would be through municipal court.

In response to a question, Levacy said, “Nothing is grandfathered.” He also added, “I don’t think there are ag exemptions.”   He emphasized that enforcement would focus on major maintenance issues – not just some peeling paint or an ajar shutter.

Trustees are interested in the joint effort and plan to get more information.

In other business Tuesday night, Fairfield County EMA Director Jon Kochis, Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Alex Lape and Levacy discussed placing a 300-foot MARCS radio tower on township property. Kochis said the tower would significantly improve the ability to communicate within buildings with portable radios. Currently, first responders often can’t communicate from inside a building with their portable radios. The new tower will fix a particularly acute communications problem in the Baltimore area and improve in-building contact in an area ranging from eastern Pickerington and Violet Township on the west to Perry County on the east, Hebron/Buckeye Lake on the north and to Pleasantville on the south. “It’s a great investment for the state and community,” Kochis explained.

The self-supporting tower – no guide wires – needs a 75’ by 75’ site with a good access road. The tower site will include a small building and a diesel back-up generator. Kochis said MARCS will partner with the township on the standby generator. The generator will be sized to handle whatever load the township wants backed up at its complex with the township only having to purchase the transfer switch and the connecting cables. Trustees will likely ask that the generator be capable of backing up its total demand at the township complex including the central fueling station that it shares with the school district and the Village of Millersport.

Trustees confirmed with Millersport Fire Chief Rob Price that he supports the project. “We’ve been trying to get something up here for some time,” Price responded. “It could save lives,” Levacy added.

Kochis said the project is being funded by the state and county. He hopes the tower is in place by the end of the year.

In his report, Price said Millersport hopes to seek bids on April 1 for a new five-bay firehouse that will be located across Ohio 204 from the Oak Creations furniture store. Bids will be opened in May with construction starting this summer. The village has set a maximum $1.8 million budget for the project. The five-acre site was donated to the village by the Ricketts family who are planning a large-scale housing development between Ohio 204 and the Deep Cut of the former Ohio-Erie Canal.

Thurston-Walnut Township Fire Department Assistant Chief Jamie Carroll told trustees that Pleasant Township Fire Department may take over fire/EMS services in the portion of the Village of Pleasantville that’s in Walnut Township. He said that could cost Walnut Township about $45,000 in fire levy revenue and about $20,000 in EMS billing revenue based on their transports last year. Price pointed out that Millersport would actually bear 65 percent of the loss of fire levy revenue.

Trustees unanimously approved a waiver drafted by the Fairfield County Prosecutor’s Office to address probably the largest financial impact should a part-time firefighter exceed the 1,500 work hours a year limit. The limit only applies to part-time firefighters employed by townships. The waiver states, “Having been fully advised of my eligibility to participate in the township’ health insurance if I work more than 1,500 hours in a calendar (year), I hereby voluntarily waive participation in the township’s health insurance police as permitted under Ohio Revised Code 505.60 (C). I further understand that I am waiving all right(s) to requesting reimbursement for out of pocket premium expenses as provided in R.C. 505.60 (D).”

Trustee President Bill Yates said he is still trying to find out what happened to the township’s cable TV franchise fee revenue. The township’s three percent franchise fee used to generate about $14,000 a year, but payments stopped about four years ago. His efforts have been complicated by Charter Communications’s purchase of Warner Cable and its subsequent rebranding as Spectrum. Yates said Spectrum acknowledges the fee is three percent but not what it is based on. Spectrum’s initial calculations would generate about a tenth of the previous revenue for the township. Yates is also questioning how the new company can simply drop the previous commitment to provide free cable to the Millersport Fire station and Walnut Township schools.

In his report, Road Supervisor Tim Morris continued to urge trustees to ask voters in November for a road and bridge levy. He acknowledged that the township would get an additional $84,000 a year if the state legislature would approve an immediate 18¢ hike in the gas task, adding that it is looking like the gas tax increase will be considerably less. “$84,000 won’t solve our problems,” he explained. Morris also reported that County Engineer Jeremiah Upp is still negotiating with ODNR about the extent of their repairs to county and township roads from the reconstruction of the Buckeye Lake dam. “What they are offering us is a joke,” Morris said. He told trustees that he plans to spend $2,000 on material to seal cracks on Cherry Lane and Lieb’s Island this spring. Once the weather clears, he will prioritize his recommendations for repaving this summer.

Trustees also unanimously approved a zoning map amendment after holding a hearing before their regular meeting. International Business Company LLC asked that two parcels totaling 25.138 acres be rezoned from R-R Rural Residential to R-2 (One and Two Family Residential District. The properties are bounded by Rosewood Drive on the west and Custer’s Point Road on the east. Crescent Cove Avenue stubs into the property from the north.

As the meeting was ending, Trustee Doug Leith asked Trustee Terry Horn to stop complaining to regulatory officials about the Micro Construction C & D landfill on Ohio 37. Leith said the landfill is now in the Village of Thurston and the township has been threatened with a lawsuit complaining of harassment if Horn’s complaints continue. Horn said he was responding to complaints from residents and his own observations as a citizen. Yates echoed Leith’s request, adding the township could not afford legal fees to defend itself from such a lawsuit.

Trustees next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2, at the township complex.

Walnut Township Road Supervisor Tim Morris said Lakeside Road is breaking up. Beacon photo by Charles Prince.

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