Olentangy Valley News

Liberty Township

Trustee wants bigger slice of county's sales-tax pie

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Liberty Township isn't getting its fair share of Delaware County sales-tax revenue, township board of trustees Chairman Curt Sybert said last week.

Sybert said the township should make a renewed effort to renegotiate a decades-old revenue-sharing agreement with the county.

A half-percent countywide sales tax was instated in 1972 for the "health and welfare of residents." In the years since, those revenues have been partially used to fund Delaware County EMS, which serves the entire county.

In 2012, the county pulled in $43.8 million in sales-tax revenue.

There is no fixed allocation of those funds for Liberty Township EMS services. Instead, the township is compensated on a per-run basis, based on the terms of the 1972 deal. In 2012, the township earned up to $250 per run, totaling $237,236.

But a lot has changed since 1972, Sybert said at the March 18 trustees meeting.

Southern Delaware County has grown rapidly, and local municipalities are struggling to find ways to fund fire and emergency medical services. Liberty Township made major staffing cuts after a fire levy was voted down in November.

"The system's broke and it needs fixed," he said. "We're living in a community that spends, so why can't we get our fair share?"

He said the county should appropriate $1 million for each township medic vehicle in the county. That's seven medics, including two in Liberty Township.

Sybert argued the county has plenty of tax revenue to spare. In 2012, just $10.6 million of the total $43.8 million collected was spent on EMS services.

He said much of that money is being used in ways not originally approved by Delaware County voters.

Not so, said Delaware County Communications Manager Teri Morgan. She said the half-percent sales tax was never intended to fund EMS services exclusively.

"Today, there is no correlation between that sales tax and Delaware County EMS, unlike the 'earmarked' levies that one is familiar with in the fire department levy world, where the funds are set specifically for the fire departments," she wrote in an email response.

Regardless, Sybert said the county could easily afford to subsidize the seven township medics operating within Delaware County lines.

"The reality is it's $7 million," Sybert said of the EMS budget. "To their $68 million budget, it means nothing. It means more to us. It's killing us."

County commissioners deferred to County Administrator Tim Hansley when asked for comment. Hansley declined to comment on the specifics of Sybert's request, but said the county plans to begin negotiations with Liberty Township after it finishes ongoing negotiations with the city of Dela-ware.

The conversation was sparked at the March 18 trustees meeting by calls from Trustee Melanie Leneghan to save money by ceasing to provide emergency medical services to the Columbus Zoo.

The township is the sole EMS provider for to the zoo, which is located west of Sawmill Parkway near the intersection of Riverside Drive and West Powell Road -- less than two miles from Liberty Township Fire Station 322 on Sawmill Parkway.

Leneghan said zoo duties should be handed off to Delaware County EMS, which is partially funded by Liberty Township taxpayers.

"Right now, my taxpayers are paying for those services twice," Leneghan said.

Last year, Liberty Township made 67 medical runs and four fire runs to the zoo, accounting for about 3.29 percent of runs for 2012.

That amounts to roughly one run every five days.

It's unclear exactly how much money Liberty Township could save by handing over zoo duties to the county.

Township Administrator Dave Anderson estimates it could save about $10,000 in gas and materials -- a minuscule fraction of the overall $7 million budget.

Leneghan argued the township could save much more than that by reducing overall runs by 3 percent. But because zoo runs are relatively infrequent, it's not clear if that would impact overall operations or staffing levels.

Fire Captain Bill Piwtorak said Leneghan's plan could bring some savings, but warned there would be unintended consequences to parting ways with the zoo.

It would take county EMS staff at least 12 minutes to respond to a medical emergency from its nearest station in Lewis Center. Liberty Township EMS can arrive in a just a few minutes.

That's the difference between life and death in some cases, Piwtorak said. The zoo draws 2.3 million visitors annually.

Piwtorak said Liberty Township also reaps benefits from partnering with the zoo, including unique opportunities to train for rescues in water, confined spaces and more.

Sybert said the township would have plenty of money to fund zoo runs and would be able to replenish its barren capital fund if it secured more tax revenue from the county.

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