We all want to feel secure in our homes and safe in the belief that if we have a fire, someone will come to put it out. And, we are grateful that there are those among us who are called to come to the rescue when tragedy strikes.
But, does that mean voting for a tax increase for Fire/EMS services is the right thing to do? Emergency services are legitimate functions of government, but does that mean any and all expenditures for those services are proper and reasonable? Should a responsible taxpayer know how their money will be spent?
When it comes to our safety and well being, Emotion often rules; but let’s consider all the facts and arrive at a data-driven decision before we vote on this issue.
What is this Fire/EMS tax levy?
The Jackson Township Trustees have placed a 2.5 mill levy – an additional tax – for Fire/EMS on the November 4, 2014 ballot. This is a continual tax levy (not a renewal levy), which means that it is a permanent tax increase. It will never expire.
Currently, Jackson Township property owners pay $134.82 per $100,000 property valuation for just the Fire/EMS portion of their tax. The additional tax would be $87.50 per $100,000 valuation. This is a 64.9% increase in our Fire/EMS taxes.
What is the current overall property tax in Jackson Township?
This tax increase does not take place in a vacuum. It is just part of our overall property tax burden, so it is helpful to view it in that context. There are two taxing districts in Jackson Township – CNE & Williamsburg School Districts. Our overall tax covers county services, township services (including Fire/EMS), schools, and library:
|Your Property Value(100% Appraised Value)||Current Tax for Property in CNE School District*||Current Tax for Property in Williamsburg School District*|
*Figures are “approximate” from Clermont County Deputy Auditor
How will the Fire/EMS Levy affect your taxes?
|Your Property Value(100% Appraised Value)||Current Tax for Fire/EMS||Proposed Tax Increase||New Fire/EMS Tax if Levy Passes|
How do our Fire/EMS taxes compare with the other townships in the county?
The taxes are listed from the highest tax per $100,000 to the lowest:
|Township||Cost per $100k||Fire/EMS Tax Revenue*||Parcels|
|Central Joint Fire & EMS (Batavia)||249.01||2,978,917||9,174|
|Jackson if levy passes||222.32||381,271||1,768|
*Except for the “Jackson if levy passes” figures in red, these figures are for tax year 2013, payable in 2014, and show charged amounts, not collections. With the proposed additional tax, Jackson’s tax would increase to $222.32, moving it above Franklin Township in the list. (The table does not reflect the 5-yr levy passed by Goshen in May 2014.)
How big is Jackson Township compared to the other townships in the county?
|Township||Total Population*||Housing Units*|
*per 2010 census.
**Data for Ohio Township includes New Richmond, pop 2,582, which has its own Fire/EMS.
What do the numbers tell us?
- Jackson Township is a very small community – fewer than 3,000 residents with just over a thousand occupied housing units – and property owners pay a reasonable amount for Fire/EMS services when compared to the other townships county wide.
- Jackson Township’s current cost per $100,000 is more than 240% greater than that of Washington Township, the smallest township in the county; yet Washington generates more than 4 times as much revenue in property taxes for Fire/EMS. That is because Zimmer is located there and contributes significantly to the tax base. Jackson does not have a large tax base. (Washington has 2 manned stations.)
- Jackson Township property owners currently pay over 40% more than those in Union Township, the largest township in the county; yet Union has almost 13 times as much revenue from property taxes for Fire/EMS as Jackson. The population there is more than 15 times the population of Jackson, and they have a huge number of businesses. (Union has 5 manned stations.)
According to a report by Goshen’s fire chief, in 2011-2012, Union Township is the busiest department in terms of number of calls, while Jackson Township is the least busy. That makes sense given the data we’ve already seen. Thus, not only is Jackson a very small community, it has a small demand for services.
Our current Fire/EMS services
Jackson Township has an all-volunteer fire department, and is, in fact, the only township in the county that does. That is a source of pride for the department and the community. We do not, however, have our own EMS department. We contract with neighboring townships for those services. In 2013, those services were provided by Stonelick, Wayne, and Williamsburg Townships. Stonelick decided not to renew the contract with Jackson beginning in 2014, so currently EMS services are contractually provided by Wayne & Williamsburg Townships. The contract is for 5 years beginning in January 2014.
The township is divided north and south by U.S. 50. Wayne handles emergency medical service (EMS) runs for residences north of U.S. 50, while Williamsburg handles the runs south of U.S. 50. For addresses on U.S. 50 itself, Wayne handles the calls west of 133; Williamsburg handles the calls east of 133.
Both Wayne and Williamsburg have paid Fire/EMS staff and are manned at their stations ready for dispatch during daytime hours M-F and on the weekend. At night, EMS responders generally come from home, get the ambulance from the station, and leave for the call. Wayne has a paramedic at the station 24/7 who is dispatched immediately in a first responder vehicle, and can precede the ambulance to the scene. Wayne’s chief boasts a 7-min response time to the furthest point in Jackson Township’s area of coverage.
What prompted the decision to put a levy on the ballot?
When Stonelick Township decided not to renew their contract with Jackson Township at the end of 2013, it put the trustees in a very uncomfortable position. They were able to negotiate a new contract with Wayne & Williamsburg Townships, and the financial arrangement that was worked out was much more attractive than the previous contract, making it a win-win for all parties involved. One year’s notice is required to cancel the contract.
Despite the fact that all 3 trustees have said they think that the current arrangement we have for contracted EMS services is the best arrangement for Jackson Township, they fear that in the future they could be put in a bad position, as they had been before. That put the wheels in motion for planning to develop our own department.
Many options were explored, and they zeroed in on a plan to build a new fire house. For the square footage requirements – including sleeping quarters, kitchen, workout room, etc – the estimate was for $1.4 million dollars. Financial consultants told them that it would cost about $137,000 per year to finance such a project. The county then advised them on how much millage would be needed to generate that amount, hence the 2.5 mill levy which is estimated to generate $137,500 per year.
Plans have not been finalized, and obviously cannot be finalized until the outcome of the levy is determined. But the direction that the Township wants to go is clear from the research and planning that has already taken place. If the levy passes, an expensive new building is on the horizon. From the levy committee’s figures, building maintenance alone will increase by 74%. And that could easily be the tip of the iceberg.
What about personnel costs? They say we will continue to be a volunteer department. But for how long? Wayne Township’s EMS budget for personnel is nearly $400,000. How could a community the size of Jackson Township afford that? (Jackson volunteers, incidentally, do receive a small stipend of $10 per run, and the chief is paid $6,000 annually.)
In the current economic climate of the country, there is a push for consolidated and shared services. Jackson Township has been ahead of the game in sharing services by contracting with neighboring townships. Ohio Township, which is comparable in size to Jackson Township (excluding New Richmond because they have their own fire department), contracts for both fire and EMS services from Pierce Township; so this is certainly a practice that is not foreign to the county.
What happens if you vote NO?
A NO vote will not change the service we are currently receiving.
A NO vote on the tax increase is not a vote against the members of our Fire & EMS team. They are important to our safety and deserve our support. We appreciate their service and admire their dedication.
We need to be realistic about the size and resources of the township. As much as some might want a newer and bigger building and fire department, as a community we’re not big enough to build and sustain it. We do, however, need to rally together as a community to make decisions that will provide our township with the kind and level of services that we need and that we can afford.