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Fire, EMS tax issues heading to voters

Jackson and Union twps. will go back to voters on May 7 for the same replacement and increase levies that they rejected in November to pay for increasing ambulance and fire service costs.

Officials from both townships said they wouldn’t be able to maintain the same level of those services for residents if they don’t have the revenues to pay their contracts.

Jackson Twp. is again seeking two, five-year replacement and increase levies for ambulance services and for maintaining fire apparatus, appliances, buildings and sites, and payment of volunteer firefighting companies to operate the same, according to the ballot.

It contracts with the Christiansburg and St. Paris fire and EMS volunteer departments, whose costs will likely increase next year to more than $50,000 for fire and more than $30,000 for ambulance services annually, Fiscal Officer David Peirson said.

“The current levy won’t cover it,” Peirson said. “We’ve used up our surplus.”

The 1.5-mill fire levy would replace a current 1-mill property tax and increase it by 0.5 mill and cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $26, for a total of $47 each year, according to the Champaign County Auditor’s Office.

Voters rejected that issue by 64 votes in November.

The township is also seeking to replace a current 0.5-mill tax and a 0.5-mill increase for a total 1 mill for ambulance services. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $17, for a total of $32 each year, according to the auditor’s office.

Voters also rejected that issue by 30 votes.

Both issues exclude residents of Christiansburg and St. Paris.

It isn’t immediately clear what will happen if voters reject the levies, Peirson said, but it could mean higher costs to individual residents for services. It would be up to the trustees on how they proceed if it fails.

Union Twp. is asking residents to replace a 1.5-mill levy and increase it by 2.5 mills for a total 4-mill, five-year levy for fire services.

That would maintain the same level of fire services through contracts it has with Catawba, Pleasant Twp., Mechanicsburg, the city of Urbana and Urbana Twp., Trustee Charles Dooley said.

If it passes, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $101 per year for a total of $126 per year, according to the auditor’s office. That excludes residents of the village of Mutual.

Voters rejected that issue by 55 votes in November.

Dooley hoped the city of Urbana’s move to a soft-billing model would help voters decide to vote for the levy.

The city will still bill to individuals what their insurance didn’t cover, but now won’t demand payment of those fees through the courts, Dooley said, citing Urbana Fire Chief Mark Keller.

“People didn’t like the idea of paying a levy and then being billed while you’re paying a levy, which I can understand,” Dooley said. “We just need more money to stay operational, as it is, because they’re requesting the money to stay operational.”

He noted that the current 1.5-mill levy would expire and the township would be left with 0.5-mill to pay for services. Areas around them have passed levies similar to the 4-mill request to cover increasing service costs, he said.

The township’s EMS contract with the city of Urbana will rise from $36,000 in 2012 to $43,000 next year, and to $75,000 by 2015, he said.

Dooley didn’t know exactly what would happen if voters reject the levy again.

“I assume (fire and EMS will) still respond, but then I don’t know what kind of expenses the residents would have to incur. There’d be a point they would probably tell you ‘Well we’ll pick you up but we’ll bill you for everything,’” he said.

And if the township has to pay for services out of its general fund, then other future township projects would have to be delayed or canceled, he said.

“Unfortunately we’re not in an economic time that people want to give a lot of money, but they still want the services,” he said.

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