Olentangy Valley News

Powell leaders back Liberty Township fire levy

Township asked city leaders for endorsement

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Powell City Council last week formally endorsed an emergency levy on the Feb. 5 ballot to save the local fire department.

At its Dec. 4 meeting, council voted 6-0 to approve a resolution in support of the Liberty Township Fire Department's five-year, 5.6-mill operating levy.

Councilwoman Sara Marie Brenner was absent.

The levy is virtually the only funding source for the fire department, which serves all of Powell and Liberty Township. If it fails, there will be no funds to keep the department operational.

Liberty Township Administrator Dave Anderson and Trustee Curt Sybert attended the council meeting to ask for an endorsement.

The levy is backed by all three township trustees.

"We'd love for City Council to take a position of public support so there are two unanimous voices in support of the levy going forward," Anderson said.

Sybert said the fire department hopes to bounce back from November when a five-year, 6.6-mill levy was narrowly voted down.

The township had to scramble to place an emergency levy on the February ballot as a backup plan to fund the fire department.

"We were devastated by the failure of that levy," Sybert said. "Certainly it was unexpected, but we have to pick ourselves up and get this levy passed."

He added: "I've been accused of spreading fear, but the issue comes down to this: Do you want a local fire department or not?"

Councilman Jon Bennehoof asked his fellow council members to help get the message out early.

"This needs to be a grass-roots campaign, because neighbors talking to neighbors is going to be more effective than all that other stuff," he said.

Meanwhile, at the Dec. 3 meeting of the Liberty Township Board of Trustees, township officials and residents continued to discuss the campaign effort -- and what measures must be taken to make the department financially sustainable even if the levy passes.

Last month, trustees agreed to postpone plans to lay off any full-time workers, which could have given the department a financial cushion to carry it through the February election.

Instead, the department suspended 10 part-time workers and eliminated overtime hours.

The trustees have pledged to avoid additional layoffs through the end of the year, but Anderson questioned the wisdom of heading into the February election without further reductions.

"This department was called overstaffed and bloated. How do you go back to the electorate in February having not made the changes that (voters) dictated? I find it hard to believe that we'd be credible at the ballot box if we're at the same staffing level," Anderson said.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan has argued that voluntary resignations will eliminate the need for layoffs, but other township officials are doubtful the resignations will come fast enough.

In a typical year, the department sees just one resignation, Anderson said -- but the current situation might be atypical.

This fall, the department lost four employees through resignations and a retirement, and officials said another staff member might be preparing to leave.

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