Officials concerned over section of county not paying for fire protection
Plain Township Trustee Scott Haws is frustrated because nearly 200 village property owners are not paying a fire-protection property tax
By Malcolm Hall
MEYERS LAKE, Ohio — Whenever a fire breaks out in a home within the northern portion of this village, the affected residents can be assured a rescue crew is on the way.
Being that the north end of Meyers Lake falls within Plain Township has led to concern among township officials because nearly 200 village property owners are not paying a fire-protection property tax. In other words, village homes that are within Plain Township have been getting fire and emergency medical services at the expense of others.
The situation is frustrating Plain Township Trustee Scott Haws.
Haws, along with Canton Township Trustee Christopher Nichols, dropped in on a recent Meyers Lake Village Council meeting to address the issue. Most of Meyers Lake falls within Canton Township. Residents in that part of the village are contributing to the property tax that supports the Canton Township Fire Department.
"The conflict and the challenge comes in for the village of Meyers Lake is they should be determining who provides EMS (emergency medical service)," Haws said. "Whether they be contracting or have their own (fire) department. Plain Township is being dispatched into the village of Meyers Lake. Our fire levy does not include the incorporated part of Meyers Lake. There are 172 parcels in Meyers Lake that are showing under the Plain Township umbrella. There are 172 parcels that are not paying the Plain Township fire levy."
An 8.7-mill property tax generates $5.82 million a year for the Plain Township Fire Department. Voters approved it for its current five-year cycle in 2015. However, the ballot language excludes municipal incorporated areas out of the fire district. That was primarily directed at North Canton, but Meyers Lake was also excluded because it is an incorporated village.
"Between us and Canton Township, we are covering that area so there is no lapse in service until they get that resolved," said Chief Charles "Chuck" Shalenberger of the Plain Township Fire Department. "There is a problem with the levy language."
When Stark County put in a new computer-aided dispatching system, it delineated where in Meyers Lake the emergency calls were coming from.
Meyers Lake, with about 560 residents, is the fourth smallest incorporated municipality in Stark County. Only Limaville, Hills and Dales, and Wilmot are smaller.
Meyers Lake leaders say they are working on the issue.
"We are in the middle of gathering our information," Mayor Beth Williams said. "We are not trying to be uncooperative. We are trying to cooperate. We have entered into a memorandum of understanding. It is the understanding that someone will respond (to emergencies)."
Haws said that memorandum of understanding has yet to be signed.
"It comes down to how is it going to get funded moving forward?" Haws said. "We feel like it is being pushed back. We have to go back to our residents and say, 'We have a timetable.' I can't have our taxpayers subsidizing another entity. Canton and Plain townships shouldn't have to sit for months for them to figure it out. It is a serious public safety matter. They need to be covering the cost of their residents."
No quick solution
During the Meyers Lake Village Council session, officials refrained from offering any quick solutions.
"This is not our problem," Councilman Justin Greenfelder said. "We don't craft your ballot language. This is going to be done the right way. We are going to follow the law."
Canton Township has two fire-protection property tax levies. One is a 4-mill levy that yields $1.17 million a year over its five-year life cycle. Another is a continuous 4.5-mill property tax that generates $1.31 million annually. Because property owners in Meyers Lake who live within Canton Township are paying on those levies, Canton Township officials are not pressing the matter as hard as their counterparts in Plain Township.
But Nichols pointed out there could be a concern.
"They have got an issue within their village in terms of fairness," Nichols said. "Why should some of their residents be paying and why should some of their residents not pay? We created a (fire protection) district, which is how we picked up Meyers Lake."
One solution could be for village officials to ask voters here to approve their own fire-protection tax levy.
"They would need to pass their own levy; village-wide," Nichols said. "We would remove them from our fire levy. It is not an easy fix."
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