Delaware News

Council looking at levy, cost savings


Delaware City Council member Lisa Keller said she doesn't want to wait three months before deciding if the city needs to ask voters for more money for city police, fire and emergency medical services.

Keller, speaking at the Feb. 8 council meeting, said the city should continue to look at other public safety programs to see if a cost savings is available by combining the police and fire departments into one entity. At the same time, council should discuss the pros and cons of placing an income tax levy on an upcoming ballot to pay for those services, she said.

At a Jan. 30 retreat, city council members talked about ways to help beef up those services without going to taxpayers for more money.

City manager Tom Homan asked the police and fire chiefs to visit Kalamazoo and Grand Haven in Michigan that operate their fire and police departments as a single public safety department, with personnel who are cross-trained to handle calls in both areas.

It was suggested at the retreat that the city spend no more than 90 days looking at that alternative.

City spokesman Lee Yoakum stressed a combined police-fire department "is not being considered. What we are doing is investigation. It may never be considered. Council asked the city staff to research to see if this is something that might be considered at a later date."

"If the majority of us think that is the direction to go in, then by all means go ahead," Keller said at the Feb. 8 meeting. "But do we want to spend the next 90 days looking at this issue and further delay talking about where to go" for more money to support the departments the city now has? she asked.

Councilman Joe DiGenova agreed the city staff needs time to study a combined department. Nothing will change overnight and some personnel and equipment needs must be addressed now, he said.

A 2003 master plan for the fire department said the city needed another fire station, more equipment and personnel to respond adequately to the needs of city residents, said councilman Jim Moore. Nothing has been done to implement that plan, he said.

"We don't have the luxury of waiting any longer," Moore said.

Councilman Andrew Brush said he still believes a levy will fail and the city needs to continue looking at alternatives to save money while maintaining services.

"I don't have a problem discussing a fire levy. ... We owe it to ourselves and our constituents to keep alternatives in mind if we don't pass a levy," he said.

"If I get a vote I would hope that's the last time you will say we won't pass a levy," said mayor Gary Milner.

DiGenova said council should be prepared to show a united front if the majority decides to take a levy to voters, either in August or November.

Homan said the levy discussions need to be broader in scope than just the fire department and include police, EMS and other city capital needs.

"We just came off of one of the most difficult (financial) years for the city and need to explore all of the different alternatives out there," he said.

DiGenova said council needs to hold special meetings to gauge public support for a levy. He said he's also heard from firefighters who are willing to go door to door in support of a levy.

While all agree the needs addressed in the 2003 fire department master plan are real, no money is available for implementation, Milner said.

"It's got to be up to the voters whether they want the peace of mind that their homes and families are safe," he said.

As council begins its discussion about a levy, several questions need to be answered, Homan said, including the scope, need and purpose for a levy.

"You want to make sure you (council) have done your due diligence so you can answer any questions that may come up."

No dates have been set to begin the levy discussions.