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Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Trustees hike license plate fee

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - Despite a passionate protest from several residents, Jefferson Township trustees Monday night approved a $5 motor vehicle license tax to counter financial woes.
Residents in the unincorporated areas of Jefferson Township will begin paying the additional $5 annual fee when they seek motor vehicle license registrations in 2013. The tax is expected to generate about $26,000 annually for the township's coffers. The funds can be used for nearly all types of operational expenses.
The new tax pertains to most types of motor vehicles but not boats, according to township legal adviser Andy Hinders, who also serves as Mercer County prosecutor. The tax already is in place in Butler, Recovery, Gibson and Washington townships and is being contemplated by Marion Township trustees, Hinders added.
Seven residents in attendance Monday night at the third public meeting on the issue objected to the new fee and another recent action by trustees - the termination of four rural emergency alert sirens to cut expenses by more than $3,000 per year.
Resident Char McCurn asked the trustees if the additional funds collected from the motor vehicle tax could be used to turn the sirens back on to "save lives."
Trustee Kent Marbaugh said no and reminded the audience the siren issue was moot.
"This meeting is not about the sirens," he told McCurn. "That decision's already been made."
She persisted.
"You could reverse it (the decision)," she said, but she received no reply.
Several residents said they were surprised to learn the trustees and fiscal officer received salaries and medical insurance for their part-time positions. One man suggested the trustees' insurance plan be terminated so the township could afford to re-activate the sirens.
Jefferson Township, which includes the city of Celina, is projecting $542,000 in revenue in 2012 with expenses at $550,000. The township also expects to have a $400,000 carryover from this year. However, some of those funds are designated solely for specific purposes such as cemetery upkeep and fire protection.
The township is facing annual losses of $55,000 in estate tax funds and $26,000 in local government funds in 2012 and 2013 due to changes in state legislation.
Resident Buzz Goodwin asked the trustees what else they've done to cut expenses. He was told fewer roads were being paved but other tasks such as plowing snow to keep motorists safe must be continued.
"We're trying to do the right thing here," trustee Keith Houts said, adding there's not a lot of places to cut.
Residents repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with the termination of the sirens. The trustees said many constituents told them they couldn't hear the sirens when indoors or outdoors and relied more heavily on other warning methods from their phone, radio or TV.
"I hear the sirens in my house," resident Alan Smith said. "Personally, I wish you were looking somewhere else (to cut expenses)."
Other residents asked the trustees if they had explored the possibility of getting grants to help with expenses related to the sirens. Houts said he had not; trustees Richard Baucher and Marbaugh shook their heads no.
"I don't mind paying (the motor vehicle tax) if you did your research," resident Jim McCurn said. "I'm disappointed you made a decision without knowing the facts."
Houts said he was told switching the sirens to narrowband "wouldn't be cheap," but admitted he had no figures to back up that statement.
After the trustees approved the new tax, Smith voiced his displeasure with the entire procedure.
"I wish I hadn't even come here," he said. "This seems like a really bad way to run the township. You guys were going to pass this tonight whether five people showed up or 500."
Smith noted there could be some changes the next time the trustees decide to run for office.
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