A clear and positive message coupled with voter support are the keys to passing an emergency levy and saving the Liberty Township Fire Department, officials say.
About 20 residents attended an open forum, held Nov. 28 at Fire Station 321, 7761 Liberty Road, to brainstorm ideas to promote the levy. A second idea-gathering session is slated for 7 p.m. today, Dec. 6, at the same location.
Residents and officials called for support in a grass-roots campaign to pass the five-year, 5.6-mill levy proposal headed for the Feb. 5 ballot, urging voters to knock on doors, talk to their neighbors and spread the message online.
They also agreed voters may have been burdened by an overload of information and mixed messages during the run-up to the November election, but supporters said they're ready to correct the error.
"It's a very simple message: Vote 'yes' if you want a local fire department," Trustee Curt Sybert said.
If the levy fails, the township will lose its only source of revenue to fund fire and emergency medical services.
In that case, EMS services would be outsourced to Delaware County EMS -- though officials estimate the services would be very limited -- and fire services would be reduced to a volunteer department at best, said Fire Chief Tim Jensen.
The campaign that led to a narrow defeat of a five-year, 6.6-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot was characterized by debate that split the support of the township's board of trustees, but officials now are working together to pass the new levy. It has the support of Trustee Melanie Leneghan, the most outspoken opponent of the defeated levy.
Jensen said the levy's backers should stay positive and use social media as well as traditional campaign tactics.
"My message tonight is very short: We've had a lot of negative messages out there and unfortunately we're here because we didn't pass the levy. Now we want to send a positive message to everybody.
"It's getting cold outside," he said. "I don't know how many people want to go door to door, but we have emails, we have Twitter, we have Facebook. All those things we can take advantage of with a clear, succinct message."
Officials also said they hope to take advantage of early absentee voting to give the levy a cushion on Election Day.
Sybert urged residents and particularly members of local homeowners associations to contact the township and get involved at upcoming pro-levy meetings.
If the levy passes, it will generate about $7 million annually and cost homeowners about $171 annually per $100,000 in property value.
The current expiring levy generated $6 million and cost residents $143 annually per $100,000 in home value.
The township would borrow money through 2013 if the levy passes, as collections wouldn't begin until Jan. 1, 2014.
In that scenario, residents wouldn't pay any taxes to support the department next year, but would see a small increase in the current out-of-pocket cost for fire and EMS care starting in 2014.