Pierce Township, OH Fire/EMS 2014 Levy: Need is There, But the Open-Ended Levy is Not Reasonable

A 2.80 mil levy is on the November 4 ballot for Pierce Township in Clermont County, Ohio. While the request for equipment purchases in the short term seems necessary, it’s unfortunate the levy should be doomed because of what it is actually asking the voters. The levy, as written on the ballot, is “for a continuing period time.”

According to the township web site, “The Pierce Township Fire District has been postponing expenditures over the past five years to stay within current levy revenues and in anticipation of the [Duke] Beckjord [power plant] closure.”

The needs are real:

1) Replace an aging 1991 fire pumper which backs up the 2002 and 2008 units. One-time estimated cost: $500,000.
2) A fire house must replace an inefficient and obsolete oil furnace installed in 1964. One-time probable cost: $20,000
3) Pay for part-time Firefighters/EMT’s needs to be raised. On-going expenditure, the increase is not stated.
4) Two aging ambulances will need to be replaced soon. One-time cost, amount not stated on the township site, but Clermont Liberty PAC estimates them to be $200,000 each.
5) Costs for firefighter gear and SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) bottles have risen to $30,000 annually. On-going expense, the increase is not stated.
6) The loss of revenue from the Beckjord power plant closure is $330,000 annually.

The Clermont Liberty PAC understandably objects to the apparent lack of accruing funds for major anticipated costs such as a fire pumper. While the Township probably should have asked the voters for the funds earlier, it could be given a pass this time. However, the ability to sell this tax increase to the public would have been better served by having two separate levies on the ballot.

Township’s Assumptions

Their data estimates the additional revenue from a 2.80 mil levy to be $937,000 annually. One-time expenditures would be approximately $900,000+ along with the temporary annual loss of $330,000 for a total of about $1.25 million for the first year. The loss of Beckjord will eventually be covered by increases in new businesses or residences. How long this will take is anyone’s guess.

Suggested Proposal

Granting that the Township is accurate in its annual need to cover both one-time and on-going operating budget is $937,000, a 4-year plan would generate about $3.75 million. The 2.8 mils could be divided as follows:

Levy #1 for short-term needs, 4 years at 1.7 mils. This comes from $1.25 million up front (new pumper, furnace, two ambulances and the first year of $330,000 in lost revenue) plus the $330,000 annually for another three years for a total of about $2.25 million. This is 60% of the total increase in revenue for that time frame, hence, 60% of the proposed 2.80 mils.

Levy #2, on-going, for operating budget would be the remaining 40% or 1.1 mils. True, this may produce an annual surplus as annual budget increases from on-going expenses were not estimated. The voters would expect to be shown how much on the “+” side this works out annually, some of which should be set aside for future needs.

Under this proposal, the short-term hit to the voters is still the original requested 47.5%, but for a fixed time (four years). After that, the increase goes to a more palatable 18.6%. If the $330,000 Beckjord loss has not been covered by other sources within the four years, a smaller temporary levy could be put to ballot.

Conclusion

The current request for a 2.80 mil increase with no time limit to cover on-going operating expenses in addition to short term replacement costs is unreasonable.
It would be better for the community if this levy were defeated and two separate levies, one on-going and the other of a fixed duration, were put on the ballot next spring.

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