Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan claimed during a meeting last week that the township is sitting on an $8.3 million surplus of revenue produced by its 5.6-mill fire levy. She would like to reduce it to a 3-mill levy, because she said it’s “inappropriate for the government to sit on (taxpayers’) money.”
“Expect it at the next meeting, 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 told the taxpayers at the Sept. 4 trustees meeting. “We only want to collect 3 mills, that equates to $4 million instead of whatever the full amount, amounts too.
“I can assure you that we’re not going to roll back money so that the fire department does need your check,” she added.
The next regularly scheduled trustees meeting is 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16, at the township hall, 7761 Liberty Road in Powell.
According to Delaware County Auditor George Kaitsa, Liberty Township’s 2019 fire/EMS appropriations are right around $8.3 million. He said the current 5.6-mill fire levy is currently collected at 4.9 mills due to House Bill 920’s rollback process.
“It closely matches the tax revenues,” he said. However, he points out, though it’s the end of 2019, “the (remaining) balance needs to fund the first three months of next year until the (county tax) settlement comes in.”
During the Sept. 4 meeting, 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.”
Kaitsa confirmed the township’s fire levy collected an additional $190,000 due to the construction of new homes between 2017 and 2018. He added that the owner of $100,000 property valuation pays $151.94 annually.
Kaitsa added the Delaware County Budget Commission, headed by his office, establishes the maximum rate of collection, and the trustees would need to petition the commission to adopt a lower levy rate by Oct. 1. At that point, he said the commission would hold a discussion with the trustees on the prudence of reduction.
“The trustees are not bound to accept the rate suggested by the commission,” he said. However, in the way of clarification, he said, “the rate the trustees choose must match the millage.”
Bryan Newell, candidate for Liberty Township trustee, said after the Sept. 4 meeting, “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.”
Kaitsa said if trustees approve a reduction, it is only good for one year.
“Each year stands on it own,” he said. “The new board next year can petition to restore the old rate of 5.6 mills.”
But, if there is a reduction in the 5.6-mill levy, what is the cost that comes with it?
Rick Karr, who is running against Fiscal Officer Nancy Denutte, 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).”
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’s 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.”
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.