Since this is the first column I have written since I was elected by the people of Liberty Township in November 2011, I would like to start by thanking all of you for your overwhelming support in that election. I feel both blessed and privileged to represent you in our township government and I thank you for this opportunity to serve.
During our 2011 campaign, I made several commitments regarding fiscal responsibility and eliminating wasteful spending.
Over the past year, it has been very difficult to keep to my campaign commitments because of strong opposition to fiscal restraint by the current majority on the board of trustees.
It certainly would have been a lot easier to go along with the status quo, but in spite of many "challenges," I have been able to keep my promises thanks to the outpouring of support from so many residents of this community. Thanks to all of you for your phone calls, emails and personal conversations supporting me in my efforts to make a positive difference.
Early in the first quarter of 2012, I was shocked to learn that the fire levy, the major funding mechanism of our fire department, had expired in 2011 before I had even begun my new job as trustee.
Instead of the levy being placed on a 2011 ballot before it had expired, the board of trustees had allowed the levy to expire, meaning we had only one opportunity to pass a levy in 2012 before the funding ran out. I immediately began going door to door to ask constituents what they wanted to see on the ballot concerning the fire levy.
I spoke to well over 100 residents and only one person said they would be OK with a tax increase. Everyone else said that they wanted no tax increases. Several residents said they would absolutely vote against any tax increase.
I then spent in excess of 150 hours researching the situation, including personal interviews, multiple conversations and phone interviews with fire industry professionals as well as running comparisons and a lot of numbers.
My conclusion was that we did not need to raise taxes and that we could continue to provide a first-class fire/EMS department at no additional cost to taxpayers.
After multiple discussions, Trustee Curt Sybert made a motion to put a 42 percent increase in the fire tax on the ballot. Trustee Mary Carducci seconded that and the vote was taken. Carducci and Sybert voted in favor. This levy would have collected $8.5 million a year for five years and would have created a significant surplus, even if our fire department didn't implement a single cost-savings measure.
Based on my door-to-door visits, I was very concerned that this November levy, which asked the taxpayers for 42 percent more than they were paying for fire service, would not pass. I all but begged my colleagues to come down from that high of an increase.
I simply could not say "yes" to asking our residents for 42 percent more fire tax, especially knowing the surplus that it would create. I could not convince my colleagues to come down at all. I had no other choice but to vote against putting the 42 percent fire tax increase on the ballot. That levy failed.
Now, my colleagues have agreed to ask taxpayers for what I had originally suggested in the beginning, which is essentially no tax increase. This new levy, which will be on the Feb. 5 ballot, is a very different request and it has my full and complete support. The November levy would have cost us taxpayers $42.5 million for five years of service. This new levy will collect approximately $36 million and provide us six years of service at a cost of a little less than $6 million a year. That is essentially no increase over what we were paying before. The November levy would have created a significant surplus; this new Feb. 5 levy will not.
My commitment to you moving forward is to stabilize our fire department, implement cost-savings measures that make sense, continue to provide all of us with first class fire/EMS service, and ensure our firefighters receive the support and compensation they deserve.
Please feel free to contact me with any comments or concerns as I respect each and every opinion and idea.
Melanie Leneghan is a member of the Liberty Township board of trustees.