Liberty Twp.’s 2017 budget includes new hires, facilities plan

Liberty Twp. is set to spend more than it collects in 2017, but trustees say expenses include funds set aside over the years for projects like a study on the proposed Millikin interchange (pictured). NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Liberty Twp. is set to spend more than it collects in 2017, but trustees say expenses include funds set aside over the years for projects like a study on the proposed Millikin interchange (pictured). NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Liberty Twp.'s $25.7 million budget for 2017 includes some new hires and the start of a long range facilities plan.

The 2017 spending plan, approved by trustees this week, includes $360,000 for an addition to its public services facility on Yankee Road, an expense that was not part of the draft budget presented in mid-December

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Preliminary numbers for 2017 set expenses at $25.1 million and revenues at $24.3 million. The township reserve going into 2017 for the general fund is just shy of $13 million.

Trustee Christine Matacic said the expenses exceeding the revenues is deceiving.

“I know we’re spending more than we’re taking in, but that’s because we have been putting money aside over the years for projects that are coming up, such as starting in on the Millikin interchange studies and other infrastructure projects and our facilities” she said.

In the township that has quadrupled in size during the past two decades, leaders are finding they need to add more employees as well as address facilities issues. Township Administrator Kristin Bitonte pencilled in new positions of a marketing assistant, an administrative assistant and a co-op employee to work on various projects.

Finance Director Michelle Greis said the township has budgeted $100,000 for the three new positions, which represent a 12 percent increase in personnel wages.

One thing that is not included in the spending plan is the proposed fire levy. Trustee Board President Tom Farrell wants to wait until after they have hired a replacement for retiring Fire Chief Paul Stumpf.

“If we are going to hire a new fire chief/safety director, we want their input on the fire levy, the value and if we need it,” Farrell said. “We thought it was irresponsible of us to make that decision, and then have the new fire chief inherit our decision.”

Trustees have said it is possible a levy could be put on November’s ballot.

The fire fund for next year shows a more than $750,000 deficit and reserves for the fire department evaporating rapidly.

If the township’s budget remains status quo, the fire and EMS fund balance — initially estimated to be $1.1 million to start next year — will be in the negative by $233,439 at the start of 2018.

In June, trustees set the wheels in motion to put a fire levy on the Nov. 8 ballot. The trustees pulled back on the ballot question in August, saying with continued growth both on the commercial and residential front, they wanted time to gauge the true tax base.

The trustees have hired the Ohio Fire Chief's Association to help them find Stumpf's successor. The chief plans to retire next September.