A shift from months of fruitless fire service negotiations between the Village of Archbold and German Township to common ground is now riding entirely on a proposed levy that would equalize payment for the services through property tax.
Archbold Council President Kevin Morton said the township trustees appear to have responded favorably to a 2-mill levy proposed for the November ballot that would cover operations, maintainence, and the purchase of equipment for shared fire service. The levy would also level the field by equalizing the amount village and township residents pay for services in proportion to property taxes.
“We need to have some common ground, and right now that common ground is everyone paying equally,” Morton said of the negotiations.
The proposed five-year levy would generate $372,000 annually and eliminate the need for the .5-mill and .6-mill fire levies currently in operation in German Township. The .5-mill levy, just renewed by voters for five years, generates $81,000 annually and can be used for fire service. The .6-mill levy, which expires in 2021, generates about $100,000 annually.
Should the proposed 2-mill levy pass, those levies and Archbold’s current .5-mill replacement fire levy would be rolled back, for a total of 1.6 mills. The millage would be rolled back from the entire township which includes the village.
Morton said Archbold Administrator Donna Dettling is working to package the levy proposal, which would be due at the Fulton County Board of Elections by August for placement on the fall ballot. He said the German Township trustees attended the village’s May 1 council meeting to discuss how to move forward with the proposal and refine the process.
Prior to the levy proposal, fire service negotiations between the entities had been persistently stalled by debates over fire equipment ownership. The township, which owns most of the fire equipment and apparatus, turned downed offers by the village to purchase it. The village has long maintained it’s more efficient for one of the political bodies to handle all aspects of the mutual fire agreement.
“That got zero momentum. Everything turned down until now centered on the ownership,” Morton said. “Once we started talking about the funding and the overall budget, that’s when we gained momentum.”
He said once the township trustees looked at the cost of operating the village fire department “the simple math became clear. There is an understanding about the true costs.”
He said Archbold Councilor Randy Ruffer suggested in November that residents outside the village should not pay more for fire services than those inside the village. What the council members discovered was the opposite: Village residents have paid up to 84 percent of the village fire department budget for both the village and the township. The township, which represents 33 percent of constituents, pays only 16 percent.
The proposed levy would increase what township residents pays for fire service to 33 percent, equalizing what village and township residents pay in proportion to property taxes.
German Township Trustee Bruce Lauber said the entities had agreed in principle on issues on two different occasions. He said both were rejected by the village council.
“We did not reject any proposals,” he said.
One was an arrangement for the township to pay the village $50,000 annually for 40 years for a fire service agreement. Lauber said even after the arrangement was tweaked to greater benefit the village the council said no.
Dettling, however, emphasized that at present the levy proposal has been agreed upon in premise only. She said details are still being developed and refined, no draft has been completed, and no agreement between the village and the township has been signed.
She said although negotiations began last summer, “We have in theory a consensus about the two mills, but that’s all we have right now. Neither party has agreed to anything.”
A formal agreement would require votes from two of the three German Township trustees. Even so, Dettling said, should the proposed levy reach the ballot and get turned down by voters, fire service negotiations between the village and the township would return to square one.
“It’s kind of irrelevant what the terms are if the two mill fails to pass,” she said. “If it goes down in November…we start all over.”
Morton said he’s optimistic the proposed levy will reach the ballot. He said equipment ownership issues have temporarily been placed aside but will be revisited.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.