Fairland stadium among various levies for voters

Published 10:31 am Thursday, October 23, 2008

When Lawrence County voters go to the polls next month to choose local and national leaders, many of them will also decide the fate of important financial issues regarding their communities.

With one exception, all of the levies are renewal levies.

Voters in the Fairland Local School District will vote yea or nay on a new levy that would pay for a new $3.2 million sports stadium. Board of education member Rusty Leep said the athletic facility is long overdue.

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“Our stadium has been around a long time and has served us well,” Leep said. “But like everything else, it needs replaced. It has continuing maintenance issues that are turning into safety issues. It’s passing inspections, but that is because we have put a lot of money into it.”

Leep said on a $100,000 house, property taxes would be increased by $39.81 a year.

While some in the community support the sports levy, others do not. James D. Spurlock, who lives in Rome Township, said he promoted the tax levy a few years ago that paid for new schools, but he can’t support the sports facility levy. He said with the economy the way it is now, it’s unrealistic to ask people to pay yet more taxes at a time when some families are barely making ends meet. He said when the school facilities levy was passed a few years ago, school officials said they would not ask the community for more tax money. Now, that’s changed.

“We’ve been hurt by promises made and not kept,” Spurlock said.

The village of South Point is asking voters to renew a three-mil levy that pays for a multitude of needs within the community.

“It’s for police, and street lights and recreations and a whole lot of things like that,” Mayor Bill Gaskin said. “It pays for our semi-annual cleanup.”

Gaskin stressed that this is not a new tax, it is a continuation of one that has been in existence for more than two decades.

“If it doesn’t pass, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Gaskin said. “It would do away with the biggest part of the police department, the street lights would go out. We’d lose money for the boat ramp and park. We’ve got to have it.”

The South Point levy brings in approximately $150,343 a year.

The village of Coal Grove is asking its residents to renew a one-mil operating levy that brings in approximately $18,972 a year. That levy has been in existence on and off since the 1970s, Lawrence County Chief Deputy Auditor Chris Kline said.

Additionally, three fire departments are asking voters to renew their fire protection levies. All of those three are five-year levies. None of these fire levies are new taxes. They are simply a continuation of levies that are on the books now. Additionally, Fayette Township voters are being asked to support a levy that would combine their two service districts into one entity.

Elizabeth Township Fire Chief said the renewal of his one-mil fire levy is essential to his department.

“This levy is very important to us. Without it, I don’t know what we would do,” Waugh said.

The levy brings in approximately $12,000-$14,000 a year. This money pays for fuel for the fire trucks and other necessities that simply can’t be paid for otherwise. Without the levy, the department would have only $6,500 annually to operate.

“With $6,500, we would only be able to pay insurance and worker’s compensation,” Waugh said. “This is for the betterment of the people. I hope people stop and think about how this township has grown in the last five or six years. And at the same time, the cost of trucks and equipment has gone up. We’ve applied for grants, but we’ve not been fortunate enough to get them. We have one truck that is on its last legs.”

While costs are going up, so are the number of calls for help. Waugh said his firefighters handle 220-230 calls for help each year, either for fire assistance, first responders assistance or other calls for help. The fire department has sent firefighters to help rescue lost hikers in the Wayne National Forest and helps with traffic accidents.

Perry Township Fire Chief Dewey Derifield said the one-mil levy there generates approximately $75,000 a year for equipment and other operational expenses.

“If the township wants to maintain a fire department, and at the same time help lower insurance rates, this is absolutely necessary,” Derifield said.

Derifield said in addition to supporting the levy, he hopes Perry Township residents will support his department in another way as well.

“We need help,” he said. “We need more people to become volunteer firefighters. Ask any chief in the county this one question and I think he would give you the same answer. We need people to get involved and it’s getting harder and harder to find people to volunteer their time.”

Like Derifield, Rome Township Fire Department President George Barnett said the levy in his community is one way people can put money right back into their pockets. By paying that levy, Barnett said the township’s fire insurance rating improves, so the homeowners who pay the levy wind up paying less for insurance.

Why? Because the levy is used to pay for new fire hydrants, new equipment, better firefighter training and other essentials, some of which are mandated by the state. It is also used to pay for such essentials as fuel for trucks, a cost that has increased over the last couple of years.

“The biggest thing, and this is our slogan right now, is that this levy helps us help you,” Barnett said. “Yes, people are helping the fire department, but they are also helping themselves. They are taking their money and putting it right back into the community.”

The one mil levy, he said, brings in an average of $110,000 a year.

Burlington -Fayette Fire Chief Ryan Vaughn said the word levy is an odd way of describing what it is that voters are being asked to support because this issue is not asking for money.

The levy on the November ballot is actually a move to combine the two fire districts and the two levies that are on the books now and apportion tax monies more equally between the two fire stations. Residents in district two may actually see lower taxes in the future, Vaughn said.

“For many years Fayette Township ran with two separate fire departments in one township,” Vaughn said. “For many years the state either overlooked or didn’t recognize this was a problem. This is our attempt to right years of wrongdoing.”

The two fire stations would remain operational, Vaughn said.