Chief: Ramifications of another failed fire levy 'unacceptable'
To the Editor:
On Feb. 5, the residents of Liberty Township and the city of Powell will consider a five-year, 5.6-mill property tax levy to continue operating the Liberty Township Fire Department. Passage of this operating levy is imperative to ensure a continued presence of local fire, rescue and EMS services for the community.
As fire chief, I want to make sure every voter understands that, while the reduction in staffing poses a challenge, the consequences of another failed levy would be catastrophic. Already, there has been a 20 percent reduction in full-time staff from 52 to 42 through permanent layoffs. A failed levy means all remaining firefighters will be laid off and both fire stations will close. Relying on neighboring fire and EMS departments, if they are available, will increase response times significantly, and the result will be increased property insurance rates. I consider those consequences completely unacceptable.
Since property tax levies can drop in effective rates, property taxation rates have been decreasing for fire and EMS services. From the original 6-mill amount approved by voters in 2002 to 2012's effective rate of 4.67 mills, residents and businesses pay less today for fire and EMS protection than 10 years ago -- a reduction of 28 percent. Yet the population has increased roughly 60 percent, with three times more structures to protect.
During that time, a second fire station was opened and staffed to meet demands of the community. Our responsibilities have increased while the cost to the taxpayers has dropped.
The 10-year fire levy expired Dec. 31, 2011, and with the failed November levy, there are currently no funds collected to continue operations.
I ask voters to consider how the fire department adds to the community's quality of life, sense of safety, access to emergency healthcare and impacts home and business values, as well as insurance costs. I encourage voters to seek verifiable facts and think about what could result as a consequence of lost services.
Since 1947, this department has been a regional leader in fire, rescue and emergency medical services by providing innovative practices to meet the ever-increasing expectations of the community. If you have an emergency, we will respond with well-trained, professionally credentialed personnel and state-of-the-art equipment. Passage of the levy will allow the community to continue to trust the fire department stands ready every hour, every day.
Timothy R. Jensen,
Liberty Township fire chief