Olentangy Valley News

Residents criticize letter in last days of campaign

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The day after voters rejected a levy for the Liberty Township fire department, supporters weighed in on what they think went wrong.

At a Nov. 7 meeting of the Liberty Board of Trustees, several residents complained about a potentially misleading anti-levy letter that was placed in their mailboxes.

Resident Kerry Daily said the letter was packed into an envelope with campaign literature for Republican candidates, and others chimed in, saying the same letter appeared in their mailboxes during the week before Election Day.

"People actually associated voting Republican with denying this levy. To me, that's wrong, and it should never have happened," Daily said.

The letter, which was originally circulated via email by anti-levy group Friends of Liberty Township, correctly points out that the levy would have constituted a 42 percent increase in the out-of-pocket cost for fire and EMS services.

But it also states: "A renewal levy with a reasonable increase can be put on the ballot in 2013 and then there will be enough funds to maintain current service levels."

An emergency levy to keep the fire department from closing its doors next year is indeed headed for the ballot, at a special election Feb. 6, 2013.

But fire officials say it's incorrect that "current service levels" can be maintained if it passes. They say layoffs and longer response times are a likely result.

Levy opponents argue that the fire department is actually overstaffed, so cuts won't hurt services, a claim fire officials dispute.

The campaign letter also included a statement about the staffing levels of the Violet Township Fire Department in the Pickerington area, which responds to about twice as many calls as Liberty Township with just slightly higher average staffing levels. But the letter incorrectly stated Violet Township has 20 percent fewer employees.

It isn't known who put the letter into mailboxes. It did not carry Friends of Liberty Township attribution.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan, who opposed the levy, did not write the letter but did forward it to residents via email in October.

At the Nov. 7 meeting, other residents said voters simply didn't know what they were voting for.

"I understand that the majority spoke, and they voted it down. But I don't think that people really understood what was at stake. I don't think people realized that the fire department could go away completely," said resident Jackie Kon.

"People take the fire department for granted," she added.

Township Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber said he is hugely disappointed by the results from the affluent Wedgewood subdivision.

It is included in Liberty Township's Precinct F, which boasted the biggest margin of defeat for the levy of any precinct by far.

In Precinct F just 254 voted, "yes," while 429 voted "no."

In no other precinct where the levy lost did the margin of defeat exceed 90 votes, and most were much closer than that.

The overall margin of defeat was just 102 votes.

Gerber lives in the Wedgewood subdivision, which includes some of the most expensive homes in Powell, as does Leneghan.

Meanwhile, some levy opponents point out their side won despite being outspent.

A pro-levy political action committee headed by the Liberty Township fire fighters union spent nearly $6,800 in efforts to pass the levy, according to documents released by the Delaware County Board of Elections.

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