Olentangy Valley News

Liberty Township fire

Another levy could fulfill capital needs, leaders say

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Liberty Township leaders say they may have to ask voters for additional revenue to pay for the fire department's capital needs.

At the Feb. 19 meeting of the Liberty Township Board of Trustees, Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber said a levy may be necessary in the future to secure funds to replace aging vehicles and equipment.

The fire department's capital fund currently is empty. Officials appropriated about $1 million from the fund to keep emergency services running at the start of 2013 after voters rejected a fire levy on the November ballot.

A smaller emergency levy was passed Feb. 5, but it won't pay to replace equipment, even after 10 full-time firefighters were laid off.

During a financial report at the Feb. 19 meeting, Gerber outlined other methods to generate revenue for capital needs but said they might not be enough.

"We have no money for equipment, "he said. "We need a new medic (vehicle), there's no doubt about that, so there's the possibility of a levy to boost the fire capital account."

It's not clear when or if a capital levy could be placed on the ballot.

Trustee Curt Sybert said a capital levy could be considered in the future, but it's unlikely the township would go back on the ballot this year. The fire department can make do with current equipment for now, he said.

Trustee Mary Carducci wouldn't comment on the possibility of a levy but said the township's capital needs are great.

"(A levy) is something we'd have to talk about," she said. "All I can say is that we have no capital funding, so I don't know what the future holds."

Trustee Melanie Leneghan said her fellow trustees shouldn't have approved a contract extension for firefighters this month, which includes raises; that money should have been allocated for capital needs, she said. (See related story, Page A4.)

Gerber countered that forgoing raises for firefighters in 2015 wouldn't come close to saving enough to cover current needs.

Fire Chief Tim Jensen said the township's backup medic is 16 years old; medics generally are replaced after 15 years.

Replacing the vehicle -- an estimated $200,000 purchase -- was delayed while the fire department campaigned to pass a levy in 2012. A fire engine also will need to be replaced in a few years, among other, smaller capital needs, officials said.

Gerber reviewed other options to raise funds, such as pursuing an increase in per-run EMS reimbursements from the county and the possibility of instituting a fee for ambulance transport.

He added the township could seek reimbursement from the city of Powell for some revenues lost when commercial property protected by the Liberty Township Fire Department is placed under a tax-increment financing agreement.

TIF districts operate by taking payment in lieu of property taxes for any increase in property values that occurs after the agreement is established. The money goes into a TIF fund and is used for public improvements.

Gerber said in one recent incident, the township had to pay back $50,000 in tax revenues from a TIF district that took several years to get approval.

"It sure would be nice if Powell would step up and say, 'we took these fire revenues away from you and you're still providing fire protection to these TIF areas, therefore there should be some revenue flow into our account for those TIF areas.'"

A few residents chimed in to say the fire department should make the cuts necessary to operate with the money it has.

The defeated five-year, 6.6-mill levy would have generated $8.46 million annually; the five-year, 5.6-mill levy OK'd by voters this month will generate $7 million annually.

Resident Karl Salmon asked if the fire department could save money by partnering with a neighboring community to form a joint fire district so resources could be shared.

Jensen said it's a possibility, but it would take "a year or two" to complete a feasibility study.

He added fire departments can save money by consolidating resources, but the arrangement has problems of its own.

"You might save on some administrative costs, but then you have control and command -- middle management -- issues," he said.

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