Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan would like to put more money back into the hands of township residents by cutting back the 5.6-mill fire levy to 3 mills. It has taxpayers worried that the rollback will hurt the quality of township’s fire and emergency medical services (EMS).
Leneghan said when she looks at “her numbers,” she wants to roll back “$4.3 million to stay in the taxpayers’ hands next year.” She also claims that the fire levy currently has a surplus of $8.3 million.
“I think it’s inappropriate for the government to sit on your money when it’s yours,” she said. “It’s your money. We didn’t need it, we didn’t use it, we’re giving it back to you. Now, those who don’t want to keep the money, you can write a check to the fire department.
“I can assure you that we’re not going to roll back money so that the fire department does need your check,” she added.
Leneghan said she has been working with Fire Chief Thomas O’Brien and Township Administrator Michael Schuiling on gathering the fire levy numbers. She emphasized that her information came from the Delaware County Auditor’s Office.
“I have seen the chief’s numbers,” she said. “There are some capital expenditures projected out that I would never approve as a trustee. The original levy was like $6.5 million. We’ve not done an increase, and we’re up to $8.3 million.”
Leneghan told taxpayers that with every increase in property values, revenues increase which caused the surplus.
“Every year as the levy progresses, the revenue increases,” she said. “It doesn’t stay the same.”
Leneghan explained the process of rolling back the fire levy.
“It will be a resolution if we have the numbers prepared, and basically the process is we will tell the county we’re not going to collect the full 5.6 mills,” she said. “We only want to collect 3 mills and that equates to $4 million instead of whatever the full amount, amounts too. Expect it at the next meeting.”
Scott Donaldson, a candidate for Liberty Township trustee, attended the meeting Wednesday. He said he thought the numbers deserve a closer look.
“The fire and EMS are so very important, so we wouldn’t want to put them in a poor situation,” he said. “As a candidate, I think we really need to look at the figures and see what makes sense. I’m not opposed to a rollback in general, but I am opposed to a rollback if it doesn’t make sense.”
Also in attendance Wednesday was Rick Karr, who is running against Fiscal Officer Nancy Denutte. He said he sees the rollback as “reckless.”
“Who spends all of this money on equipment and assets and doesn’t want to upkeep it?” he said. “We have a roof falling off of (the township hall). Things fall apart over time, and she is acting like everything is going to stay new for the duration.”
Karr mentions the recent approval of the new Ohio State University Medical Center north of Home Road at Sawmill Parkway, which will be a multistory building. He said the fire department won’t be able to purchase the equipment needed to fight such fires if the rollback is put into effect.
Nico Franano, Save Our Services spokesman, concurred with Karr on the township maintenance issues. He said that according to recent maintenance assessments, both fire stations are in need of maintenance.
“In year two, we won’t get a new fire truck, we would have to survive on no capital expenditure, zero,” he said. “No fixing the restrooms, no staff hires until the last year of the levy, in which case we are $2.3 million in the hole. We’ll have to cut staff or something, because the auditor will not let us go into the hole.”
Joe Stoutenburg, a resident of the township, said he understands that the fire department’s ladder truck is at the end of its life, and the rollback wouldn’t allow for the purchase of a new one.
“The rollback is predicated on zero additional hirings and zero capital expenses, including the $1.4 million ladder truck, which I understand is basically at the end of its life,” he said. “At some point that is (going to be) unavoidable.”
Bryan Newell, who’s running for township trustee in November, said, “Leneghan is forcing the candidates that will run the next time to run a bigger levy or second operating levy, and she is hoping to nail them on that.”
However, Newell mentioned, but would not give details, that he and Karr have spoken with the firefighters of the township and that “starting in January, this thing will be put to bed for good.”
On June 22, 2017, trustees approved a resolution declaring the necessity for the renewal of the fire levy.
Voters went on to approve the levy in November 2017 with nearly 75% of voters voting in favor of it. The tax commenced in 2018 and was first collected in 2019.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.