Fire chief battles trustees for levy

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What started as a request from the Franklin Township fire chief to investigate millage amounts for a potential levy escalated to a heated discussion between the chief and the township trustees.

Chief Richard Howard of the Franklin Township Fire Department asked the board of trustees to authorize sending a letter to the Franklin County auditor to obtain accurate estimates of equivalent dollars to mills in the township. From that information, the chief hoped to formulate a levy for the November ballot that the trustees might consider.

“We’re getting by by the skin of our teeth,” said Howard at the June 26 trustee meeting.

“I know times are tough. This is a way to keep the door open.”

Trustee Chair Tim Guyton opposed Howard’s request on the grounds that the trustees had not received a five year plan, the department’s tentative 2009 budget, or an estimation of how much the department is losing.

“I haven’t seen any of that. I don’t know what your financial needs are,” said Guyton, who added that the trustees have asked for that information previously.

Regardless, Howard feels that the township cannot wait to obtain estimates from the auditor as the deadline to include a levy on the November ballot is in August.

“This is not by any means saying we’re going to put a levy on the ballot,” said Howard, who estimated the department will need a levy that would generate $6-800,000, based on past spending records, as well as the cost of replacing outdated equipment.

According to Howard, the department needs further funding to cover the cost of a new fire engine, the replacement of air packages and masks, which will total nearly $80,000, employee salaries, and other day-to-day expenses.

The department spends $3,000 per month on supplies alone and $36,000 per year to supply the trucks to perform basic tasks, said Howard.

“I’m not just trying to make a killing on a levy. Everything costs more. The township has to keep pace and the money just isn’t there.”

Still, Guyton remains skeptical of the township’s need for another levy.

“I am supposed to be a steward of the assets of the township taxpayers,” said Guyton after the meeting.

“Chief Howard is expected to live within his means like every resident is expected to do. Also, Southwestern City Schools will be on the ballot. How much can and will the residents afford?”

The last levy placed on the ballot for the fire department passed at five mills, after Guyton negotiated that 2 mills be cut from the total.

“As a board, we have to be conscious of what the residents would be willing to fund, not necessarily what we would like.”

Until Howard presents certain budget information to the trustees, Guyton remains against requesting any estimates from the auditor.

“After we have the facts, we may pass on a levy issue at this time, reduce the amount requested, or stay the same,” said Guyton.

The trustees, Guyton and Don Cook have scheduled a meeting with Howard on July 9 to discuss the department’s budget needs.

Also, the trustees appointed Paul Johnson to the board as a new trustee. Johnson will be sworn in at the next trustee meeting, to be held July 10.

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