Liberty Twp. leaders seek more details before setting levy amount

Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Paul Stumpf in front of the township’s fire headquarters on Princeton Glendale Road.
Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Paul Stumpf in front of the township’s fire headquarters on Princeton Glendale Road.

All three Liberty Twp. trustees say they are leaning toward a November ballot to ask voters for more money for fire services, but not until they obtain more financial information.

The township’s finance committee recommends putting a 3.75 mill levy on the November ballot, but Trustee Tom Farrell said he isn’t comfortable with budget projections and therefore he isn’t certain that is the right amount for a levy ask.

RELATED:Finance committee recommends 3.75 mill levy

“These are budgets based upon a budget that goes out five years and if that budget is correct then these numbers are correct,” Farrell said. “I’m just not convinced that this budget is correct and I don’t want to go to the public and ask for money that I do not believe is correct.”

The finance committee recommendation would boost revenues $3.3 million. If the trustees do nothing, the fire fund will be in the red by $115,490 at the end of next year and have a deficit of almost $3.9 million when 2019 is over — because township expenses are expected to increase by $3.7 million that year.

If voters approve the levy, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay an extra $131 or a total of $309 annually.

Up until now the trustees were mainly wrestling with the timing of the levy. Farrell has always maintained the new fire chief — Chief Paul Stumpf announced his retirement in September and gave the township a year to find his replacement — must have input on the levy, so he was advocating for a 2018 levy request. Now he says placing a ballot question on in November is the only responsible thing to do, if the budget projections are true.

MORE: Opinions differ on urgency of Liberty Twp. fire levy

Trustee Board President Christine Matacic told the Journal-News on Monday she favors making a few budget adjustments for next year and waiting to capture more property valuation in the fast-growing township so that the levy request might be lower. That would mean May 2018.

However, she said after talking with their fiscal officer, she now believes they cannot afford to wait because budget deficits would compound over time, so she is leaning towards — though she hasn’t definitely decided — November again.

“There’s not that much difference in valuation that will be added next year versus what was added this year,” she told this new outlet. “By waiting ‘til May we would probably have to go for a bigger levy than what we would go for now, because we’d be putting ourselves further in the hole.”

Trustee Steve Schramm has never wavered in his resolve to go for a November levy.

The trouble has been the trustees are trying to manage a township that has quadrupled over the past 20 years and they say they don’t have a “crystal ball” to know what the future will bring and how that impacts service needs.

RELATED: Liberty’s budget touched by rapid growth

The township’s 2017 fire budget will go from $6 million next year to $8.8 million in 2019 — the amount includes a new fire truck and more staff — and will stay in the $8.5 million range for the foreseeable future. The two current continuous levies — voter approved in 1999 and 2010 — generate about $4.7 million.

Farrell said the budget numbers he is questioning are for adding a new Station 114 – levy dollars wouldn’t pay for construction only operations - in 2019 and buying three fire trucks with a price tag of $2.6 million. He said he knows $800,000 for personnel is “pretty much cast in concrete.”

“I question not anybody’s running of the numbers, but our crystal ball and if it is right. And if we really need to ask the residents, who pay for this, if we really need these now,” he said. “Make it very clear, I do not want to risk the safety of the residents in anything that we do, but these are big numbers.”

The township’s finance committee — made up of residents, staff and trustees — was at the work session Tuesday lobbying for their recommendation.

“The confidence level the residents have in the trustees, you just don’t want to jeopardize that with red figures,” Frank Peters said. “Too often we hear from the United States government, the state, county, ‘well we’re out of money and we’ve gotta do something,’ well how did you get out of money. I don’t like to hear that, because that’s unacceptable when you’re calling the shots and you run out of money. You can’t run your personal budget that way.”

Brenda Frazier warned that there are also unforeseen circumstances that could crop up – like the schools needing to be on the ballot at the same time – that could put a May levy and the township finances, in jeopardy. If it fails in November they can try again in May.

“I think it would be irresponsible not to go in November,” Frazier said. “All through the years our management in Liberty Twp. has been wonderful, we’ve been able to stretch the money out lots further than the five years that we’ve gotten money for. To let us go in the red at this time, I think that’s irresponsible for anybody to even look at it.”

Farrell plans to comb through the numbers with staff to satisfy himself that the expenditures are valid. Matacic asked staff to look at what staffing Station 114 for EMS-only calls — three as opposed to five people — for a while will do for the bottom line. The township is also getting new numbers from the auditor’s office for 3.25, 3.5 and 3.75 mill levies.

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