The Community Oversight Foundation this week announced its endorsement of Liberty Township's fire levy, while the township board of trustees took steps to plan for the consequences of the levy vote -- pass or fail.
During the Jan. 7 board meeting, a representative of the foundation, a nonprofit organization that monitors area development, pleaded for votes of support Feb. 5, when an emergency levy for the Liberty Township Fire Department will appear on the ballot.
In the meantime, trustees approved measures to prepare to borrow funds to keep the fire department running -- if the levy passes -- and gave notices to all remaining firefighters that they could be laid off if it fails.
Foundation Associate Director Dana Freudeman said it would be a "tragedy" if the fire department, which provides fire and emergency medical services to Powell and Liberty Township, were forced to close its doors.
"It just seems incongruous to me how a community could vote to take away what adds prestige, safety and security to a community with the demographics that we have and with the rapid growth we've had, and the expected growth in the future," Freudeman said.
"We strongly support the levy and we'll do all we can to get the word out for a successful conclusion in February," he added.
The levy already has garnered unanimous support from all three township trustees and all seven members of city council.
Also during the meeting, trustees approved several measures to keep the fire department running for the time being.
The first reallocated about $1 million from the department's remaining capital funds to pay for operating expenses through Election Day.
The previous levy has expired, so the township is draining its reserve funds to keep services going while it seeks a new source of revenue.
The money previously was earmarked for capital needs such as replacing aging vehicles and equipment.
Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber said the situation also forces the township to table plans to make fire hydrants more numerous and accessible.
Township Administrator Dave Anderson added: "That's the only money we have left to run the fire department on for the year, unless, of course, the levy passes."
Trustees took action to secure funds as soon as possible if the levy passes, voting to request an advance on anticipated tax revenue.
That's because even if it passes, the township won't begin to collect on the levy until January 2014, so it would have to borrow money to retain emergency services in 2013.
If the levy fails, funds will quickly run dry and the township will have no way to pay for local emergency services.
To that end, trustees approved plans to give layoff notices to the remaining firefighters, all of whom likely will lose their jobs if the levy is defeated.
The move was expected. The trustees took action because a 30-day notice is required by law, and Election Day is now fewer than 30 days away.
Last month, trustees voted to lay off four firefighters to help keep the department afloat through the beginning of the new year.
Ten part-time firefighters were laid off in November, and an additional four full-time firefighters resigned or retired in the past six months.