Both St. Clair fire, EMS levies will now be on November ballot

St. Clair Twp. will now have fire and EMS renewal levies on the November ballot after the Butler County Board of Elections reverses its Aug. 21 decision. STAFF FILE PHOTO

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St. Clair Twp. will now have fire and EMS renewal levies on the November ballot after the Butler County Board of Elections reverses its Aug. 21 decision. STAFF FILE PHOTO

The Butler County Board of Elections has reversed its decision denying St. Clair Twp.’s request to place two levies on the November ballot.

St. Clair Twp. voters will be asked to approve a 0.5-mill fire renewal levy and a 0.5-mill life squad renewal levy.

The incorrect dates on the two pieces of legislation requesting the issues be placed on the ballot were determined by the elections board to be “typographical.”

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“My thought is the township did what they could in good faith, and the people of St. Clair Twp. shouldn’t have to suffer without an (emergency medical service) department because they don’t have the money to pay for it without (voters’ approval),” said elections board member Chris Wunnenberg.

The township trustees in July approved two resolutions for the renewal levies in order to fund the respective services, and earlier this month approved a clarifying resolution to correct inaccuracies in those pieces of legislation.

The issues found by the Butler County Board of Elections with the St. Clair resolutions included:

  • An incorrect election date in the legislation pertaining to the fire levy, though the correct date was listed in other sections of that resolution;
  • The life squad levy legislation contained the wrong collection date — governments cannot collect money the same year they start taxing — which election officials had called "a fatal flaw" as intent could not be determined without further explanation; and
  • A resolution correcting previous issues was not signed by the authorized elected official, though St. Clair law director Gary Sheets — who signed that document — said he was acting in a de facto capacity and the document was still valid even though he wasn't the fiscal officer.

Butler County elections officials recommended the board re-evaluate the fire levy request but not the life squad levy request.

“The question was what year did they intend for the tax to be first collected,” said Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro. “The board can’t make that determination so this was a fatal error … the board cannot make that determination on behalf of the township.”

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However, Sheets and township Fiscal Officer Doug Wheelwright said to the board on Tuesday there were accompanying documents from the Butler County Auditor’s Office showing the correct collection information and intent should be clear.

Wheelwright said he and the trustees felt they gave the solicitor the permission to sign on behalf of the fiscal officer. Wheelwright sent Sheets a text message and the trustees did so via a clause in the two pieces of levy legislation. However, steps outlined in Ohio law were not followed.

“We felt with the township’s solicitor, by me giving him permission it was okay to have him sign it,” said Wheelwright, who was out of town when trustees approved the clarifying resolution. “The intent was for me to have someone else sign it for me.”

Sheets said the law also affords a designee to act in a de facto capacity, which allows a public official to perform the duties of a public office without being lawfully placed in that office.

“There’s no fraud involved, or no intent of misrepresentation,” Wheelwright said. “But this is important to the constituency of St. Clair Twp. We’ve been in fiscal emergency since 2012. We are like most small political subdivisions, we’re losing funding.”

Before the board voted 3-0 to approve to certify both levy requests, one board member offered advise and another expressed his irritation.

Wunnenberg advised Sheets and Wheelwright to designate a deputy fiscal officer to avoid this issue again. Board member Todd Hall said it’s the township’s responsibility to remove any ambiguity and provide clean and accurate pieces of legislation.

“You know what aggravates me the most,” Hall said holding the township’s resolutions, “that we get paperwork that looks like this.”

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