Election 2020: Fall fire levy expected in Springboro area

Springboro area voters should expect a new property tax levy on November ballots to support fire and ambulance services in the city and Clearcreek Twp.

The township trustees have already taken the first step toward asking voters for an additional continuing 3.75 mills in property tax in anticipation of placing the levy on local ballots for the Nov. 3 presidential election. On Monday, they are to vote again to proceed on the levy to appear on ballots in Warren and Montgomery counties.

“The fire service for Clearcreek Township and Springboro has been working in a deficit position for a few years now and by 2022 will be at a crossroads to be able to maintain the current level of service. We have studied all ways we can save money and it has come to the point where our growth and demand for service requires additional funds,” Trustee Jason Gabbard said.

In addition, Clearcreek Twp. is moving ahead with spending as much as $7.8 million, plus interest, for building expansion needs for the police, administration and road departments.

Studies indicate it will cost $3.5 million to $4.5 million for a new 17,000-to-18,000 square foot police department on township property next to he current administration center at Bunnell Hill Road and Ohio 73.

In addition, the township is looking at spending $1.25 million to $1.5 million to renovate the existing administrative building for administration only, $1 million to $1.3 million for a 16,000-to-17,000 square foot vehicle storage building and $300,000 to $500,000 to renovate the existing maintenance building for administrative and support functions.

“We are in the planning stages but we have outgrown our facilities,” Gabbard added. Plans still in the early stages are expected to involve cash and financing, possibly through the Warren County Port Authority.

The proposed fire levy is expected to cost property owners $113.76 to $131.25 more every year for every $100,000 in property value on their county bill.

Voters are already paying 4 mills in property tax for these services on three existing levies. Still township officials said the fire fund would go broke in 2022, unless the levy passed or services are cut back.

Trustees say the existing levies were only expected to cover fire expenses for 10-12 years but have been made to last for almost two decades.

The annual fire budget is about $5.9 million. Last year, they overspent by more than $1.1 million what existing levies generated.

“It’s time,” Trustee Steve Muterspaw said, noting the effects of growth in the township and the rising cost of living. “I can’t think of anything that doesn’t cost more.”

Otherwise, Fiscal Officer Russ Carolus said he projected a $500,000-$1 million carryover in fire funds at the end of next year and deficit sometime in 2022.

“We’ve been drawing down the balance ($4.3 million at the end of 2019) for a couple years,” Carolus said.

The fire district operates three stations serving 47 square miles, including Springboro and unincorporated Clearcreek Twp., which is undergoing rapid residential growth.

The township spends about $15 million a year on police, fire, roads and other services, funded primarily through property tax.

Last year, it carried over $2.3 million from the general fund and planned to spend about $2.4 million this year for general expenses, according to township officials.

Voters rejected a previous additional continuing fire levy in May 2013, prompting staff cuts. The trustees then agreed to dip into more than $10 million in reserve funds to staff the department’s three stations.

In July 2013, the trustees postponed plans to again seek an additional continuing levy expected to raise an additional $4.4 million a year for fire district expenses.

“It really wasn’t needed at the time. It’s certainly time now,” Muterspaw said

The levy and expansion decisions came from a June 3 work session on issues that will have “impact for decades ahead,” Administrator Matt Clark said.

Installation of sewers in Red Lion has been put on hold, due to a lack of commitment from the major property owners. Trustees indicated they wanted to reject home building proposals including lots of less than 1/2 acre to control growth.

On July 13, the trustees plan to pass the last resolution needed to put a levy on the presidential election ballot. Springboro leaders are assisting with the campaign, Clark said. In addition to fire and EMS service, the township and city collaborate on parks and other services.

“Collaborating together helps us squeeze the maximum value out of everybody’s tax dollars,” Clark said. “None of us are excited to put a levy on, particularly in this economic climate.”

Fire Chief Steve Agenbroad summarized the situation in a report to the trustees.

“If we do not generate additional revenue, we will have to cut services. This decision should be left up to the community and the issue should be placed in front of the electorate to decide what they want.”

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