Ohio Developer Sues to Force Township to Provide Fire and EMS Coverage

Today’s burning question: Our township provides fire and EMS coverage to an area that includes a city. City officials negotiated a tax incentive agreement with the developers of a new commercial shopping center that significantly reduces the tax burden on the property. Their generosity is now going to reduce our annual assessment on the property from $230,000 to $85,000. Our solution is to create a new fire district with boundaries that do not include the development. Will that work?

Answer: If you are in the state of Ohio, the answer to that question is yes! But it does not mean you won’t be sued.

The developers of a new Costco shopping center have filed suit against Sugarcreek Township, Ohio after the township formed a new fire district that will not include the development area. The new fire district is set to go into effect on February 1, 2015.

The township’s actions were prompted by the City of Centerville’s decision to provide the developers with a hefty tax incentive agreement.

The Xenia Gazette quoted Sugarcreek Township Administrator Barry Tiffany as saying:

  • “It is unfortunate that the City of Centerville is being unwilling to fund the services appropriately and fairly has caused the developer to file the lawsuit.”
  • “If you’re not going to play fair, we’re going to exclude you from our (fire) districts. It’s never been our intent not to provide services if possible but we have to be paid for it. We’re not making demands of them that are unrealistic.”
  • “On that property, a fire department would normally receive approximately $230,000 plus a year and they are asking us to operate it at $85,000.”
  • “That is not fair and equitable to the other citizens and business owners in this community. Also, as a business standpoint, it’s not smart business to operate a business in the red for 30 years.”

According to City Manager Greg Horn:

  • “It’s not a question of not wanting to pay for something.”
  • “It’s a question of utilizing the (tax) dollars that are going to be available to cover the infrastructure costs. It’s very much wrong when someone tries to insinuate that Centerville’s getting rich out of this and keeping those tax dollars. It couldn’t be further from the truth.”

According to my esteemed fire law colleague, Chip Comstock, who is both a fire chief and an attorney: “While Ohio law does not allow townships and fire districts to refuse to respond to certain locations within their response districts, it does permit fire districts to redraw their boundaries.”

The case was filed last week in Green County Court of Common Pleas. The plaintiffs, Cornerstone Developers, LTD, Oberer Development Co., Oberer Construction, LTD and George R. Oberer, Jr., are seeking a temporary restraining order to require the township to provide coverage past the February 1 deadline.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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