Olentangy Valley News

Election Night Live

Change of heart: Liberty fire levy passes easily

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Chris Parker/ThisWeekNEWS
Becca Mount (left) watches as Jim Cirigliano (center) and Chalaco Clark shake hands after speaking to those who gathered to wait for the Liberty Township fire levy results Feb. 5. Unofficial results showed the levy passing easily.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Fire and emergency medical services in Powell and Liberty Township will be preserved after voters backed an emergency levy by a huge margin Tuesday, Feb. 5.

With all 45 precincts reporting Tuesday night, unofficial results from the Delaware County Board of Elections showed the proposed five-year, 5.6-mill levy winning with 3,766 votes (84.46 percent) to 693 (15.54 percent).

The levy will generate $7 million annually for the fire department and cost homeowners about $171 annually per $100,000 in assessed property value, starting in 2014.

Leaders said the levy, which is the township’s only dedicated source of revenue to fund emergency services, would allow the local fire department to remain in operation — albeit with a slimmer staff than in recent years.

Fire Chief Tim Jensen said he thanks the community for its support but cautioned there will be some changes in department operations.

"This community deserves quality services, and now they can continue to have it," Jensen said. "It'll be a little less funding, but we will still continue to provide the best-quality service that we can for what they’re affording us. We’ll have a few challenges, but we’ll manage those and continue to protect the community like we always have."

The campaign to pass the levy was a short sprint for officials and residents who backed the issue. Voters rejected a larger 6.6-mill levy by a slim margin just three months ago on the Nov. 6 ballot, and the new emergency levy was pursued as a last resort.

Had it also been rejected, the township would not have had another chance on the ballot. All fire department employees likely would have been fired, both fire stations would have been closed and the township’s ability to continue to provide any fire or medical services would have been uncertain.

The levy's passage may have been bolstered by public sentiment.

Unlike November's defeated levy, which was the subject of a divisive campaign, the new levy was backed by all three township trustees and all members of Powell City Council.

It inspired a grass-roots resident campaign, which saw support from some of the last levy's most-vocal critics.

One of those critics was Trustee Melanie Leneghan, who campaigned to defeat the November levy, calling the fire department bloated and overstaffed.

Now that the fire department has condensed its roster, Leneghan said she "couldn’t be happier" to see the emergency levy pass.

"As the only trustee who advocated for and recommended this funding level since levy talks began in early 2012, I'm very happy that the residents of Liberty Township have once again agreed with me," she said. "They have agreed that we can have an efficient, top-of-the-line fire and EMS department without raising taxes, and certainly without raising taxes by 41 percent."

Officials now are pursuing an advance on anticipated revenue from the levy to keep the fire department running in 2013. Legally, the township cannot begin to collect on the levy until January 2014. That means residents would pay no taxes this year for fire and medical services.

The levy breathes new life into the fire department, though it may have to become more efficient in the coming years.

To cope with a reduced budget, trustees recently laid off 10 part-time firefighters and canceled a program to connect area seniors to local services.

They won't replace four full-timers who left last year, and last month they issued layoff notices to all remaining firefighters in case the levy had failed.

Officials have said additional reductions may be necessary.

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