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How to handle LaGrange secession?

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LAGRANGE — The Village Council would like to see the village secede from LaGrange Township by the beginning of 2019, but the two sides will have to quickly come to an agreement regarding the fire department for that to happen.

During a LaGrange Village Council committee of the whole meeting Thursday night, the two sides discussed two possibilities: creating a fire district that would serve the village and the township or entering into a contract in which the village would pay a portion of the cost of running the township fire department.

The three LaGrange Township trustees — Gary Burnett, Rita Canfield and Douglas Gardner — and the township’s fiscal officer, Roberta Moore, attended at the meeting.

Currently, the LaGrange Township Fire Department serves the village and the unincorporated parts of the township. The two entities overlap due to the village never seceding from the township when it was incorporated years ago.

According to LaGrange Mayor Kim Strauss, village residents are paying nearly $70,000 of inside millage to the township, but aren’t getting any benefits from it due to laws regulating what work the township can do inside village limits. Township leaders disagree about how much inside millage village residents pay.

If the village were to secede from the township, though, the levy that both township and village residents pay to fund the fire department would cease, meaning there would be no money coming in to run the department.

Fire district

The creation of a fire district would allow for the village and township to be serviced by the fire district. There is a similar arrangement in Wellington, where the Wellington Fire District serves Brighton Township, Huntington Township, Penfield Township, Pittsfield Township, Wellington Township and the village of Wellington.

“We’ve done a lot of checking since all this came about,” Burnett said. “We can do it (create a fire district); it’s not hard to form. It’s pretty easy to do, as far as the paperwork.

“What we’ve found out, in questioning other districts, is that by forming a district the price goes up substantially. That’s the part we’re concerned about.”

Burnett said the township looked at the costs the Wellington Fire District pays and said it would cost between $100,000 and $150,000 a year more than what the village and township now pay for the township fire department.

The fire district would have to pay for audits, secretary, board members, staff and administrators, he said.

“(The fire district would also have to) have their own insurance and their own attorney,” Burnett said. “We have (Ohio Township Association Risk Management Authority) for our insurance, because we’re a township, and it’s really cheap compared to going out to just any insurance company. We have the county prosecutor that is free to us, so we don’t have attorney fees. We went through all those costs, and it’s going to be substantially more as a district.”

Contract

Burnett said there is another option though — a contract.

“One thing we have come up with, as an option, is don’t form a district and leave LaGrange fire department under our (the township’s control), and we can have a contract,” he said. “Several entities have that — Oberlin with New Russia Township, South Amherst and Amherst and Amherst Township.”

If the fire department remained under the township’s control, the cost would remain the same as it is, according to the trustees. Burnett said the village pays about $124,000 a year in taxes for fire and EMS, and the township pays a little more than $210,000.

“If we did a contract, we would want no more than (the amount the village currently pays) in a contract,” Burnett said. “Leave it the same as it is now. Nobody has to pay any more taxes.”

While creating a contract between the two sides may seem like a simple solution, there’s still the issue of funding.

“Along with this whole discussion, we have to remember that the levy is going to be coming up before long,” Gardner said. “We don’t want to create a lot of anxiety among the voters out there.”

Even if the two sides agree to a contract, the levy that funds the fire department would cease immediately when the village seceded from the township.

According to Moore, the levy expires in January 2019. Township leaders expressed concern about asking residents to pass a renewal of the fire levy and then having to ask them to approve a new levy the following year.

“We have to put a renewal on next year,” Moore said. “If you leave, then that (the current levy) stops, and we have to put it on again after you leave. That’s going to cause major confusion among the residents in both entities.”

The other option is to have the two new levies, one for the village and one for the township, passed and ready to take effect in the beginning of 2019. The village would then secede from the township at the beginning of 2019 as the old levy expired. The two new levies would then go into effect and fund the fire department, which would still be controlled by the township and serve the village through a contract.

For that to work, though, a number of things would have to fall into place rather quickly. Both the township and the village would both have to pass the new levies in 2018, but before either entity can put the new levy on the ballot, they would have to have a contract for the fire department in place.

The two sides have agreed to begin working on a contract and hope to have it in place within the next few months. The township has copies of contracts from other communities in the area, and plans to use those as a basis for the proposed contract with the village.

Contact Scott Mahoney at 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.



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