Orange Township voters overwhelmingly approved a three-year, 7.5-mill levy Tuesday, Feb. 5, saving the township from having to make drastic cuts to its fire department.
With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, unofficial results from the Delaware County Board of Elections showed the levy winning easily, 2,357 votes (70 percent) to 1,027 (30 percent). A slightly larger fire levy failed in November.
Twenty-one full-time firefighters would have been laid off Wednesday, Feb. 6, if the levy had failed, township leaders said during the campaign. Another round of layoffs also would have been made after 30-day notifications were sent out Feb. 6, according to fire officials.
The fire station on South Old State Road would have been closed, leaving just the station at Gooding Boulevard and U.S. Route 23 open. The department has a staff of about 65, including 45 full-time firefighters.
"We just want to say we appreciate the vote (for the levy)," Fire Chief Tom Stewart said. "We appreciate the support of the residents, and we will continue to provide the same service (to the community) we always have."
Stewart thanked firefighters for making financial concessions in a new contract that will help keep the department solvent. He said fire and township officials would continue to look for ways to save money in fire operations.
Trustees Rob Quigley, Debbie Taranto and Lisa Knapp also thanked residents and firefighters for their support of the levy.
"Thank you to everyone for their support and trust in the township," Quigley said. "Now we can move forward."
"I think we did a much better job of communicating (the need for the levy)," Taranto said. "I'm looking forward to moving on from here."
Knapp said she is elated with the levy passage.
"I'm glad the residents had plenty of opportunity this time to get information from both sides (those for and those against the levy)," she said.
The implementation of a tentative three-year labor contract with the local firefighters union depended on passage of the levy. Fire officials said it contained cuts of about $1.3 million over the three years of the agreement, but some critics have claimed it actually contains only about $500,000 in cuts.
Trustees placed the levy on the Feb. 5 special election ballot a day after a three-year, 7.8-mill levy failed Nov. 6 by 468 votes.
Collections on a three-year, 5-mill levy that expired in 2012 ended in December.
This week's levy was not without controversy. The board of elections ruled it off the ballot in early December after deciding township officials missed the filing deadline by two minutes and didn’t submit all the required paperwork. However, township officials had sent emails to the elections board a few minutes before the 4 p.m. filing deadline. The township contended that effort was sufficient to meet the deadline and took the matter to the Ohio Supreme Court on Dec. 12.
The court ruled, in a 4-3 decision Jan. 18, that the levy could be on the ballot.
Critics of the levy had said it was only three-tenths of a mill smaller then the one that failed in November and that the fire department could operate with a smaller levy, perhaps 7 mills.
Supporters said the department is running at bare-bones levels and cannot properly function without adequate money.
The department had a $1.5 million carryover into 2013. Trustees approved a resolution at their meeting Monday, Feb. 4, moving $2 million from the general fund to the fire fund to help keep the department operating.
No taxes may be collected from the levy until 2014, so a combination of general fund money and loans will be needed to keep the department afloat during 2013.
The levy will raise about $7.6 million a year and cost homeowners about $230 annually per $100,000 in assessed property value. The expired 5-mill levy cost about $153 a year per $100,000 in assessed property value.