Orange Township

Trustee: Misleading info muddies fire-levy facts

Wednesday January 30, 2013 4:47 PM

To the Editor:

I support the Feb. 5 Orange Township fire levy. The new levy does represent a genuine cost-savings to residents compared with the levy that was on the ballot last fall, and it is imperative that we pass this levy to continue the level of service our community needs.

However, I feel that some information being stated by township officials is misleading and as a result is muddying up the issue. When a fire chief uses seemingly misleading words with the public, the press and the trustees, or when asked by a trustee multiple times at public meetings, he cannot somehow recall even approximately the amount his own department spent in 2012, and the other trustees remain silent about it, there is a real problem. Attempts by concerned citizens to simply get to the truth should not be maligned as being "anti-fire department" or "making trouble." These are the facts as I see them:

* 2013 tax furlough: No fire department taxes will be collected in 2013. That's a savings of about $650 this year for the average Orange Township homeowner had the fall 2012 fire levy passed. So, In essence, if the levy passes, we will end up paying taxes for three years, but actually getting four years of service. To me, that's a win-win situation for the residents and the firefighters.

* Potential surplus: If a 7.5-mill levy is passed, we will have a small surplus at the end of three-year levy term, which will be even larger if we implement EMS billing soon. Some people support that surplus, and some do not, due to concerns that a surplus could be spent recklessly in the future. However, it is my hope and belief that the increase in public scrutiny due to last year's levy failure will prevent wasteful spending in the future and that any surplus will result in a future savings to our residents.

* $1.3 million in union concessions (announced by the fire chiefs): In reality, some of these figures don't actually represent a cost reduction, but instead a cost avoidance of projected future costs that have never actually been incurred by the fire department. This can easily be determined by looking at the actual fire department expenditures for the past three years, and also the projected expenditures for the next three years. Compared with 2012, the decrease in spending over the next three years is not even close to $1.3 million:

2010: $6.05 million (actual).

2011: $6.40 million (actual).

2012: $6.46 million (actual).

2013: $6.17 million (projected).

2014: $6.20 million (projected).

2015: $6.27 million (projected).

* A wage freeze of salaries at 2012 levels (as stated by the fire chiefs): This is misleading. The union contract will provide for increase in wages each year. However, this is being offset by a decrease in the amount of pension contributions the township will make on behalf of union employees. I feel this is a fair way to phase out the additional pension contribution, but it is disingenuous to reference one fact without the other. The truth of the matter is that:

* Full-time (union) firefighters are taking a cut in take-home pay: This is absolutely correct, and I very much appreciate the sacrifices our firefighters have made. However, as a direct result, there will also be increases in wages paid to our nonunion part-time firefighters (at a lower rate of course), and this needs to be acknowledged.

* EMS billing: My research indicates that we could net $1,000 per day (up to $400,000 per year) from billing for EMS services. This practice would cost Orange Township residents absolutely nothing out of pocket for any fire/EMS service, but would allow us to collect from insurance companies for EMS transports to help fund our department, like many other townships and cities have done for years. I've advocated for EMS billing since Nov. 30, 2012, but my fellow trustees refuse to pursue it at this time. What are we waiting for? Implementing billing years ago could have helped to save us from the current fiscal crisis.

The bottom line is that government must always be honest and transparent regarding its operations so our residents can make educated decisions. Please join me in voting "yes" on the fire levy Feb. 5 so we can move forward towards making changes at Orange Township to create a brighter future for all of us.

Lisa Knapp
Orange Township trustee

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