[ back ]
Township talks heat up over fire levy
Township talks heat up over fire levy
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Former longtime Chardon Township Trustee Richard Lutzke called on trustees last week to rescind their motion to place a continuing fire levy on the November ballot.
"I hate to see a continuing levy," said Mr. Lutzke, who served as trustee for 21 years. "It takes the responsibility out of your hands."
His plea came minutes after trustees unanimously approved a resolution of necessity to formally place a replacement 3.5-mill continuing levy on the November ballot.
Mr. Lutzke said making it a continuing levy, rather than for a limited term of three or five years, would require a petition by residents to eliminate or modify it. If the financial picture changes, he said, the township could not move to amend the amount being brought in. "I hate to see anything put on a continuing basis," he said.
Trustee Steven Borawski has said the township would seek a continuing levy as a way to meet increasing costs for fire and rescue services. The township anticipates a $50,000 deficit next year in its fire contract.
Having the levy to run continuously, Mr. Borawski said, would allow the township to meet the growing costs without having to return to voters for a number of years.
Residents at the meeting also expressed concern for a continuing levy.
Resident Jane Kriz said she agrees with Mr. Lutzke about a continuing levy.
So did resident James Schumann, who said he plans to vote for the levy but is concerned about how other voters would view it. He urged trustees to mount a campaign to inform voters of the need for the levy. He said the levy basically will double taxes for fire protection, and it may be a "bitter pill for people to swallow."
Mr. Borawski said the township is seeking approval of the levy a year before the expiration of an existing fire levy. He said, even if it were not a continuing levy, the township would eventually need the money. He said township officials opted to seek a levy that is expected to meet the needs for 10 years, rather than the traditional five years.
He said that, if voters reject this levy, trustees are unlikely to seek a continuing levy next year. "It wouldn't be a permanent levy, I'm sure," Mr. Borawski said.
Trustee Charles Strazinsky said that, while the levy will increase taxes from $55 to $107 for each $100,000 of property valuation, it is still a "pretty good deal" for the services received.
Mr. Lutzke also questioned projections made by the Chardon Fire Department, which contracts with the township for services, saying they are out of line. "The fire department is always trying to overdo things," he said. "This here is just about outrageous."
While the fire department does a good job, he said, it is constantly trying to drive up the costs of its operations, seeking equipment that bigger city departments have. He said most Chardon firefighters work full time for city departments and want to see the Chardon department acquire everything they have. "They want the same things they have where they work full time," Mr. Lutzke said.
He said municipalities can raise money through income taxes, while the township does not have that option, relying solely on property taxes.
Mr. Lutzke also questioned whether the township pays a disproportionate share for fire services. "The township pays too much of the burden for what it gets," he said.
The Chardon Fire Department contracts with Chardon and Claridon townships, as well as the City of Chardon.
He also criticized some of the projected costs for fuel, payroll, insurance and building maintenance. Mr. Lutzke said he had seen firetrucks and ambulances being used to simply drive department members home.
Chardon Fire Chief Larry Gaspar said all of the estimates provided to township officials were as conservative as possible.
He said fuel increases were estimated using the department's actual costs going back eight years. He said the department has averaged an annual 12.8 percent increase in fuel over that time. He said estimates for health care were based on a 20 percent to 40 percent projected increase that was provided by the department's insurance agent. The department used the 20 percent figure for its estimates, he said.
"I wished he could have come to me to ask, instead of publicly saying things that are untrue," Mr. Gaspar said of Mr. Lutzke's criticisms.
He said people may assume why they see a firetruck going down their street, but the truth is the department offers residential programs such as smoke detectors or the Knox Box, which provides faster and easier access to some properties.
Mr. Gaspar said he sat with representatives from each of the communities to discuss the department's needs for the future. "We all worked on these numbers," he said.
Mr. Gaspar said the amount each community pays is based on the property valuations of each community and the number of calls.
He said the department's payroll is less than other departments in Geauga County of equal size. He said the Chardon Fire Department pays $11 an hour for part-timers compared to $20 an hour paid by the Geauga County Sheriff's Department.
"We provide an excellent service," Mr. Gaspar said. "When someone calls for a heart attack, we're there."
[ back ]