Sugarcreek Twp. weighing options for fire service

Sugarcreek Twp. officials are exploring the idea of a joint fire district with the City of Bellbrook as one of several options to to address funding for its fire and emergency services department.

“We’ve been in discussions with the city of Bellbrook for years about maybe combining services — maybe looking at a way to share services more,” said Sugarcreek Twp. Administrator Barry Tiffany.

A regular fire district, a private fire company and contracted services are also being considered.

“We want to hear from the people in our community exactly what they think they want to do at this point,” Tiffany said.

Township officials presented the proposal at a meeting Tuesday attended by more than 100 residents.

The focus, however, shifted continuously to the new Cornerstone commercial development in Centerville and who should provide fire and emergency services to the complex.

Late last year, Sugarcreek Twp. trustees announced their plan to create a fire district in lieu of a fire department — one that would not have covered new developments in the Cornerstone complex, such as Costco. Those plans have since been rescinded, but the fight continues between Sugarcreek, the city of Centerville and Oberer Development Co., which is responsible for the Cornerstone project.

In March, Oberer Developers and owner George Oberer Jr. filed a federal lawsuit claiming the threat of a fire district that excluded the Cornerstone development from fire and EMS services damaged potential business at the development along Wilmington Pike near I-675.

“When everybody signed up to join the development, nobody thought there would be an attempt to devoid Cornerstone of fire and EMS,” George Oberer Jr. said.

But Sugarcreek has said Centerville is not willing to pay enough to cover for the increased demand in services expected by the new developments. “The last thing we want to do is stop providing services, but we have to be compensated fairly and adequately to do that,” Tiffany said. “We feel that the township needs to receive the taxes off that property just like they do from every other taxpayer in our community.”

Centerville annexed the property from the township.

“If you annexed the property, you’re going to receive the tax revenue from it — therefore, you take care of it!” said Richard Carson, whose statements during the meeting received support from many.

Centerville’s city manager, Greg Horn, said he feels the city gave the township “a fair offer” for fire and EMS services in November 2014. “It takes two to agree,” he added. Horn said he fears the options presented this week will only drag out the dispute over Cornerstone.

“It concerns us, quite frankly,” he said. “We’d like to see the litigation end and, if they go down certain roads, it will probably continue.”

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