Jefferson Township’s fire chief said his department is “being taxed” by an increasing number of runs to businesses with tax abatements in the county’s “Golden Triangle,” a challenge that will be heightened if officials approve a proposed annexation in the area.
Chief Bill Houk and Jefferson Township Trustee Jeff Pfeil met with county commissioners on Monday to discuss the topic.
“We’ll be tied up on runs in an industrial park and not be able to serve the residents,” Houk said. “And due to tax abatements, the commercial properties don’t pay for fire service.
“We’re trying to protect that area — everybody’s trying to do more with less,” he added. “We’re asked to do more with no additional revenue.”
West Jefferson Village Council approved annexing nearly 300 acres of prime development land along Interstate 70 between Byerly Road and the Deercreek Township line with the Paul J. Flucke Trust. The trust owns nearly 1,000 acres bordered by the village, Byerly Road and Interstate 70, but is seeking annexation of only 297 within Jefferson Township.
All is currently zoned for light industrial and retail use. The proposed annexation will hinge on re-zoning as a commercial district.
Under terms of the agreement, Jefferson Township will provide fire and emergency services to the property once development begins, while the village will extend water and sewer lines to the area. The trust and developers will assume responsibility for constructing internal roads and erecting fire hydrants.
Future developers will get a 30-year property tax abatement. But the village will benefit from income taxes paid by employees of businesses that locate there. The language is standard in the world of Tax Increment Funding (TIF). Other businesses in the West Jefferson Commerce Park receive similar benefits.
Houk said he’s concerned about the ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating, specific to Jefferson Township. It’s a rating number is reevaluated every 10 years. He said the village and any area with hydrants is rated at a four, with one being the best. Houk said ones are rare and the village will remain a four.
But with more businesses come more runs, with no additional taxes to find it. An 11-mill levy to find fire services is on the books in the township.
Houk said there were 118 runs to facilities in The Golden Triangle with tax abatements last year, which represents nine percent of the runs the department performed. It’s an increase of 50 percent from six percent in 2011, he noted.
“We serve the property now, it’s farmland,” Houk said. “When we keep developing the land, we’re asked for more service, which means more runs. That worries me, when we do evaluation we don’t have enough people, based on the runs.”
The department typically staffs six per shift, and has been unable to hire additional personnel due to revenue constraints, Houk said, noting that the village government does not contribute. He also complained of “not having a seat at the table.”
Commissioner Paul Gross called the village’s move to approve “a poke in the eye.”
“There’s zero collaboration. It’s a breakdown in local government. There should be more (revenue) for schools and the township fire department… It’s unfortunate it’s been done without collaboration,” Gross said.
Commissioner Mark Forrest agreed.
“We’ve always worked hand in hand,” he said.
Commissioner David Dhume reiterated the need for information regarding how the annexation will affect the township and the fire department.
“It’s important to talk about this,” he said. “Health and safety issues are first and foremost in our obligations.”
Tom Hart, the lawyer representing the landowners, said the main reason his clients want to annex into West Jefferson is because the water and sewer hook-ups are already there.
The county is currently building a new water treatment facility and tower at U.S. 42 and Interstate 70 in hopes of luring business to that location.
Gross previously questioned West Jefferson’s capability of handling additional water and sewer demands if the Flucke parcel is developed.
If the township nixes annexation, the matter will go to a hearing before the commissioners within 30 to 45 days. If the commissioners deny annexation, attorneys for the Flucke Trust can take the issue to common pleas court.
In other business, Treasurer Donna Landis reported Union Township paid off its bond’s interest of $31,750 on a bond of $250,000, which it took out in December 2011 for the purpose of erecting a new township building.
Dean Shipley can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617, on Facebook at Dean Shipley or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.