Liberty Township's unified fire-based EMS system is likely to be split down the middle if an operating levy for the fire department is defeated at the polls in November.

Liberty Township's unified fire-based EMS system is likely to be split down the middle if an operating levy for the fire department is defeated at the polls in November.

Currently, all township firefighters also are certified paramedics, unlike some communities that employ separate fire and EMS workers.

If the five-year, 6.6-mill levy is voted down, the township will lose its sole revenue stream to fund emergency services for more than a year. The current 6-mill levy is set to expire this year.

In that case, revenues for emergency services will quickly dry up. Collection on a levy passed at any time in 2013 would not begin until January 2014, the start of the next calendar year.

The township no longer could afford to sustain its current fire-based EMS staff and might have to seek fire and EMS services from outside sources, officials said.

Township leaders are in the early stages of formulating a contingency plan to provide emergency services in the township if the levy is voted down.

Some township officials, including Fire Chief Tim Jensen and Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber, are skeptical that any level of township-funded fire services could be sustained without new revenue.

Even if budget surplus dollars, currently allocated for capital expenses, were redirected to cover personnel, Gerber said there isn't enough money to sustain a department with a similar level of services for more than a few months.

Unemployment costs for laid-off firefighters could be a burden if the levy goes down, depending on how many individuals were let go. It could cost up to $400 per week to cover each laid-off employee, Gerber said.

Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan contends the township could afford to employ some level of fire staff by delaying the replacement of emergency vehicles past their typical life expectancy.

The township instead could turn to a mutual-aid agreement with a neighboring community to provide fire services. There has been no discussion thus far as to which communities the township potentially could partner with.

One possible scenario is a pay-per-call system, but that could mean delayed responses, Jensen said.

"Even if the trucks are available, you're looking at extended response times," he said, "and of course, their priority is going to be their home community."

Staffing a volunteer fire department is a second possibility. The township was last served by volunteer firefighters in 1989.

But Jensen said he is unconvinced that enough qualified Liberty Township residents would be willing to volunteer in 2012. He said fewer residents have the minimum certifications than in decades past.

Hiring a private contractor to provide fire services is a third possibility, but hasn't been explored thus far.

The fire chief said losing the current fire-based EMS model ultimately would diminish the quality of the township's emergency services.

"We've got individuals who can multitask and respond to a variety of situations," he said. "With individuals that do EMS and fire rescue, you're just getting more bang for your buck."

The proposed property tax levy would replace a levy currently being collected at 4.64 mills, which expires this year. If approved Nov. 6, it would generate $8.46 million per year and cost homeowners $202.43 annually for each $100,000 in home value -- an increase of 42 percent over the current levy, which costs residents $143.17 yearly per $100,000 in home value.

But it's just a 10 percent increase from what was originally being collected on the 6-mill levy passed in 2002. The levy now is being collected at a lower effective rate thanks to rising property values in the township.