Lebanon says it may not be able to build new fire station without levy

Lebanon voters will be asked to approve a 9-mill levy for fire and emergency medical services. Part of the plan calls for leaving the main downtown station, due to the condition of the living quarters. Staff photo by Lawrence Budd

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Lebanon voters will be asked to approve a 9-mill levy for fire and emergency medical services. Part of the plan calls for leaving the main downtown station, due to the condition of the living quarters. Staff photo by Lawrence Budd

City leaders here say local voters are deciding more than the fate of a 5-year, 9-mill fire levy in the upcoming election.

Without the additional tax revenue anticipated if voters approve Issue 3 on the Nov. 6 election ballot, the city will be unable to afford to continue to employ six full-time firefighters funded temporarily through a federal grant, according to Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka.

“The city was fortunate to receive a SAFER grant last year which supports additional fire and EMS staff for a 3-year period. However, the community must fully fund these positions after this grant period expires in 2019,” Brunka said in an email response.

Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grants come through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In addition, plans to relocate the main fire station from downtown to land recently purchased on the Warren County Fairgrounds on North Broadway Avenue would stall. The project is expected to cost at least $5 million.

“The actual construction of a new fire facility is dependent on the passage of the proposed 5-year, 9.0 mill fire levy,” Brunka said.

RELATED: Lebanon to seek fire levy, move main station

Not everyone in the community is ready to support the tax hike.

Long-time resident Mary Smart appealed to the council to keep in mind elderly residents like her living on fixed incomes.

“I don’t know how older people can continue to pay these high prices,” said Smart. “It’s just a struggle.”

Smart, who has lived 18 years in Lebanon, said she already pays $1,200 every six months in property taxes.

On March 27, the council voted unanimously to put the issue on the fall ballot, rather than a smaller increase to the existing 7-mill levy, expiring at the end of next year.

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For every $100,000 of home value, the levy is expected to cost $303 annual a year, $70 more than the existing 7-mill levy. It is projected to raise $4 million a year, an additional $839,000 a year over the existing levy, for fire expenses.

Passage would also prompt the city to put Station 41 up for sale. The location was a converted laundromat on West Silver Street used since 1985 as the city’s main station.

The building — with door clearances so low a new ladder truck wouldn’t fit inside — sits next to the new LCNB bank administrative center. It could be razed to make room for more parking.

Brunka said the property would be appraised and sold to the highest bidder, bringing an estimated $250,000 in revenue to the city.

“The sale of the property would be a competitive process, with the city considering any and all offers made for the purchase of the property,” he said in an email.

The new location would also better position the fire department to respond to fires in growing areas on the city’s north side, according to city officials.

RELATED: Lebanon buying land for fire station, city property for private development

In addition, the taxes are expected to boost the city’s fire fund, projected to end 2019 with $880,000 in reserve. In each of the past two years, $250,000 in general funds supplemented the fund to cover the department’s expenses.

The department’s budget is about $4.3 million a year.

In November 2013, more than 63 percent of voters approved the 7-mill replacement levy.

Former City Councilman Jim Norris filed as treasurer of Citizens for a Safer Lebanon, a campaign committee promoting passage.

MORE: Lebanon council unable to muster votes to eliminate ethical question

But Norris referred questions about the campaign back to Brunka.

Early voting begins Wednesday.


Public Information Meeting

Proposed 5-year fire levy and Station 41 facility

Thursday, Oct. 18, 6 p.m.

Station 41, 20 W. Silver St., Lebanon.

For more information, call 513-933-7200

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