Watertown Twp. seeks levy

WATERFORD – An emergency services levy will likely be on the November ballot for residents of Watertown Township.

Watertown, which has a volunteer fire department but no EMS service, contracts with surrounding townships for rescue squad service. Though the township bills its residents who use the outlying squad services, it typically only recoups a small percentage of what it spends, said Watertown Township Trustee Gene Morris.

“We get about a 15 percent return on it. People just drop the bill and forget about it so we go ahead and pay for it,” he said.

Since residents are largely not paying for their own ambulance service, Watertown is using more than $3,000 of its annual budget to fund residents’ squad service. Warren, Barlow and Adams townships provide EMS services to Watertown and charge either the township or the resident per squad run. The Beverly-Waterford Rescue Squad provides the majority of EMS service to Watertown Township through a $3,000 annual contract, but there is a fear that price could go up drastically if Beverly-Waterford is forced to go to a paid EMS staff, said Morris.

“Waterford is getting into the situation that a lot of other squads are in that they’re having trouble getting people to show up,” he said.

Though Waterford boasts a couple of young volunteers, it will not be enough to sustain the department when some of the older volunteers are gone, said Beverly-Waterford Squad Chief Jerry Barnett. Therefore the question is not if they will be forced to move to a paid staff, but when, he said.

“I told the township one night that maybe we can get 10 more years with the volunteer staff, and they said they’d be surprised to get that,” he said.

Watertown Township currently has a 1.5-mill levy in place for Fire and EMS services, but that levy is misleading because it technically only pays for fire services, said Morris.

Currently proposed as a 2-mill levy, the possible November tax measure would be a new levy in addition to the fire levy and would go solely to rescue services, he said.

Watertown Township resident Donald Forshey, 63, drives squad for Beverly-Waterford, and said he feels Watertown Township is currently donating squad service to its residents.

“I’d probably support a levy,” said Forshey.

Township resident Chester Williams said he would wholeheartedly endorse a levy that would help the residents.

“We’re a rural area and EMT is very important out here. You can’t put a price on saving a life,” said Williams, 59.

Morris said the idea was well-received at a recent township trustees meeting where about a dozen residents were in attendance. The trustees will likely hold one more meeting to discuss the issue before beginning the process to put it on the ballot, said Morris.

If passed, the five-year levy would generate around $41,128 a year for the township, estimated Washington County Auditor Bill McFarland. As long as current tax rollbacks remain in place, the levy would cost $61.25 a year for the owner of a house valued at $100,000, said McFarland.

The levy is being added under the assumption that the contract price with Beverly-Waterford will soon go up, said Morris. However, if the levy generates more money than is needed for EMS services, the township will have the county roll it back, he added.