Liberty Township's fire department will cut part-time staff, eliminate overtime hours and dig into its capital budget to prevent additional layoffs -- for now -- after voters rejected a 6.6-mill, five-year operating levy request on the Nov. 6 ballot.
At a special meeting Nov. 13, the trustees agreed to proceed with a plan to retain current full-time staff and keep the Sawmill Parkway fire station open for at least the next several months, after considering options that included eight to 26 immediate layoffs.
They are banking on the passage of an emergency 5.6-mill, five-year levy headed for the Feb. 5 ballot to prevent a large number of layoffs and operational cuts in 2013.
"The plan is to go all in, pass the levy and be back and more efficient than we ever were," said Trustee Curt Sybert.
The trustees also said 26 firefighters would be notified that they could lose their jobs if the new levy fails. A notice of at least 30 days is required by law.
Many of those firefighters will have to go in any case. Staffing reductions still will be necessary in 2013 even if the February levy passes, because the department's budget will be smaller, trustees said. Reductions could be achieved via layoffs or through attrition as more firefighters voluntarily leave.
Trustee Melanie Leneghan is banking on the latter. She draws a distinction between layoffs and resignations.
She estimates a reduction in force from the current 48 staff members to about 30 might enable to township to keep both fire stations up and running.
Future reductions aside, the plan locks in place reductions the fire department has already seen this fall. Three firefighters who resigned and one set to retire will not be replaced, said Fire Chief Tim Jensen.
It also suspends all 10 of the station's part-time employees. Currently, the department uses a single part-timer during each shift.
The plan also empties the department's capital budget, which is used for major expenses such as replacing aging vehicles.
Officials estimate those measures will leave the department with roughly $2.2 million to continue operations through February, until a permanent source of revenue can be secured.
The current levy, which expires Jan. 1, is the fire department's sole dedicated source of revenue.
The new plan does leave room to fund a bare-bones fire department through 2013, even if the February levy fails. Jensen said there might be enough money left over to staff three or four employees per shift -- enough to man a single fire truck at a single fire station.
In that scenario, the Sawmill Parkway fire station would be permanently closed and EMS services would be outsourced to Delaware County EMS, which already covers the entire county.
Currently, the township staffs between 12-15 employees per shift -- enough to staff two fire trucks and two medics at any given time
The plan was put forward by Leneghan during the Nov. 13 meeting. It stood in contrast to three proposals from Jensen, all of which included some immediate layoffs.
The fire chief said he is planning for the worst-case scenario and wanted to provide a "cushion" for the department if the February levy is defeated.
"We have a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of misinformation to overcome in our community," he said. "I cannot count on the voters passing this levy."
Regardless, he said the chosen plan "bought some time" for the department.
Leneghan met with members of the Liberty fire union prior to the Nov. 13 meeting and hammered out the plan.
During the meeting, Sybert initially criticized her for introducing a plan contrary to those proposed by the fire chief. But following a closed-session discussion, he adopted the proposal alongside Leneghan and Trustee Mary Carducci.
"I'm just delighted," Leneghan said. "I'm so happy it worked out this way."
If the February levy passes, it will generate about $7 million annually and cost homeowners about $171 annually per $100,000 of assessed property value. The expiring levy generates $6 million and costs residents $143 annually per $100,000 of assessed property value.
If it is approved, the township will borrow money through 2013 to fund operations, as collection on the levy wouldn't begin until Jan. 1, 2014.