Lebanon voters to decide fire department funding, 3 council seats in election

Lebanon voters will have plenty to think about when they go to the polls on Nov. 7.

In addition to selecting three city council members from a field of five candidates, voters will decide whether to approve a complex change to city tax levies.

Income tax vote has complicated details

Voters will decide whether to approve a 0.5% increase to the city’s income tax to pay for additional full-time firefighters. If the income tax passes, the current fire levy, which is a property tax levy, would be reduced from 9 mills to 6 mills.

City officials said passage of the income tax increase would enable the city to have 12 full-time firefighters/medics on duty per shift and avoid periodic closures of Station 42, which is located off Ohio 48 near the Interstate 71 interchange and the Lebanon industrial parks.

If the income tax increase passes, the resulting property tax drop would save the owner of a $200,000 home approximately $170 per year, according to city officials. The Warren County Auditor’s office estimated the property tax savings at $105 per year for a $100,000 home.

The impact of the income tax change would be more complicated, depending on whether a person is working, and if so, where. Lebanon residents who also work in the city, and those who work in townships, would see their income tax burden rise. A person with $50,000 of taxable income would pay an extra $250 per year.

But those on certain fixed incomes and residents that already pay income tax to another city are unlikely to see their income tax rise if the ballot issue passes.

With the proposed increase, Lebanon’s income tax would go from 1% to 1.5%, still among the lower rates in the Dayton region.

Earlier this year, City Manager Scott Brunka and Division of Fire officials said that the number of service calls to the department has increased by 25% over the past five years. They said under current funding levels, the department must rely on a combination of full-time and part-time staff to fill each shift.

However, due to regional part-time labor shortages, the number of available part-time fire and EMS personnel has decreased by 75%, they said. A shortage of part-time staff can result in fire station closings which lengthens response times.

Brunka previously told council that the income tax would shift some of the tax responsibility to the 11,000 people who work in Lebanon but do not live in the city. Another 1,853 people work and live in Lebanon, while 8,576 live in Lebanon but are employed outside of the city. He said it would reduce the burden on senior citizens and other residents who are paying an income tax to other cities.

Five candidates seeking three council seats

Lebanon voters will decide if three incumbents should continue as members of City Council. One incumbent council member, Mark Messer, is seeking a new four-year term, while two other incumbents, Kristen Eggers and Breighton Smith, who were appointed to vacancies in the past two years, are seeking full four-year terms of their own. One former council member, James Norris, is running again for another term on council, along with newcomer Joshua Toms.

Here are brief profiles of the candidates, in alphabetical order:

Credit: Richter, Edward (COP-Dayton)

Credit: Richter, Edward (COP-Dayton)

Kristen Eggers, 43, was appointed to council in January 2022. Eggers works as an office manager for a family business. She said has lived in Lebanon most of her life and earned an associate’s degree from Sinclair Community College. Eggers is active in her homeowners association and volunteers at Safe on Main.

“I’m running because I love what I’m doing,” she said. “I want to serve the community and keep Lebanon a great place moving forward.”

Eggers said she wants use her experience from working for Clearcreek Twp. and as a mother and a small business owner to make the city better and is hoping to apply what she’s learned so far as a council member.

She identified the top issues for the city as funding for the fire/EMS division, road improvements, and managing growth. Eggers said she is hoping to become more involved with the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce to help promote local business and work with city staff to better support their efforts.

Mark Messer, 39, is a small business owner who is completing his 12th year on council and is currently the city’s mayor. Messer has lived in the community for 33 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Liberty University and is involved in a number of organizations.

He said he’s seeking a fourth term because he’s worked on several of the planning documents for the city and downtown, and is looking forward to executing the plans.

“It’s been an awesome ride,” Messer said. “We’ve accomplished many goals and have made a lot of great strides. I feel that Lebanon is in a great position. I want to keep the momentum up.”

Messer said during his tenure on council, the city has eliminated $5 million in debt and by the end of 2024, the city’s general obligation debt should be eliminated.

He said key issues facing the city include funding a full-time fire/EMS department; electric division improvements such as its new solar array project; addressing downtown truck traffic, the widening of Ohio 63 to Ohio 741 and other infrastructure projects; and preparing shovel-ready sites for the city as a location to help support regional economic development projects.

James Norris, 70, is a retired Lebanon school teacher who previously served 16 years on city council and has lived in Lebanon since he was 5. He has been a board member of Solutions Counseling and Recovery Center for more than 40 years and a board member of the Warren County Historical Society for more than 30 years. Norris holds a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s degree from Xavier University.

Norris is the older brother of current Vice Mayor Scott Norris, who was elected to his first term on council in 2021.

“I am running because of my involvement with the community and I particularly enjoyed my 16 years on council of bringing my views and helping to make decisions for the city,” he said.

Key issues identified by Norris include measuring the quality of life with housing; securing a financial platform for the city’s fire/EMS division and top-notch public safety protection for Lebanon; improve infrastructure funding; and developing quality housing with an eye on how it impacts the school district.

“There is no pressure on us to grow,” he said. “Development needs to go through a strainer and be constantly evaluated.”

Credit: Breighton And Basette Photograph

Credit: Breighton And Basette Photograph

Breighton Smith, 37, was appointed in January after Adam Mathews was elected state representative. A native of Cincinnati, Smith has been a Lebanon resident for three years and helps manage his family’s law practice. Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton and a law degree from Northern Kentucky University. He is active in several community organizations.

Smith said he’s running for a full term on council because “right now the city is at a critical time and there are a lot of things happening. I want to stay in Lebanon for the rest of my life. I believe my experience and outlook is needed.

Smith said key issues facing the city include responsibly managing growth in order to keep the historic charm and character of Lebanon; continuing the modernization of city services and infrastructure improvements such as the solar array project and road repairs; and ensuring essential core services are there for residents.

He said he continues to support the city’s Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinance.

Joshua Toms, 39, is seeking his first term on Lebanon City Council this fall. Toms is a bail bondsman and has served as vice chairman of the Middletown Historic Cemetery Board. A Middletown native, Toms has lived in Lebanon since 2019.

Toms said he was running for office “because the practices of our city council have become corrupted by abusing emergency orders to pass legislation that are not emergencies. I see government out of control at all levels, nationwide, and I have realized that if I want something done, I should be the one to get involved and make those changes.”

He said he believes in limited government, transparency, accountability, fiscal responsibility and property rights. Toms he would like Lebanon to become a Second Amendment sanctuary city and repeal the income tax ordinance to restore the full 1% tax credit for residents who work outside of the city.

Toms said he wants to ban “spy technology” such as surveillance cameras and automatic license plate readers that the city has recently installed, according to his website and submitted information.

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