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Coventry officials urging approval of fire/EMS levy

9/27/2012 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

COVENTRY — Coventry officials said the township will not be able to sustain its fire department if a current levy is not renewed by voters in November.

The five-year, 2.25-mill fire/emergency medical services (EMS) levy — Issue No. 56 on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot — is one of two “critical” operating levies for the department, said Fiscal Officer Joni Murgatroyd.

“We absolutely must have this renewal to continue the services we currently provide to our residents,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Seese.

The levy provides about 25 percent of the operating funds for the department. The township’s primary fire/EMS levy, a 4.65-mill levy — last approved by residents as a renewal in 2009 — provides about 53 percent of operating revenues, Murgatroyd said.

The existing 2.25-mill levy, which is in its last collection year, financially supports the fire department’s salaries, benefits, vehicle and equipment repair, supplies and gear, training and building maintenance, she said.

Township officials want residents to understand they would not incur any additional costs by approving the levy renewal. The levy would continue to cost the owner of a $100,000 home $5.74 a month in taxes, or $68.91 annually, according to township officials.

“This levy will not increase taxes, but it will help to continue the excellent service we receive from the Coventry Township Fire Department,” said Trustee Gary Zoldesy.

If renewed, the levy actually would bring in less money than it has in the past, Murgatroyd said.

The township is receiving about $512,807 from the existing levy in 2012, she reported. This amount is $47,617 less than last year.

“The loss in revenues over last year were a result of the property tax revaluations, which reduced home values approximately 7.3 percent over last year, along with the accelerated phase-out of the tangible tax,” she explained.

The five-year shortfall for this levy would be approximately $236,088 during the next five years, Murgatroyd said.

Although the levy renewal would provide less revenue over the next five years, township officials determined it was best to ask voters to approve it as a levy renewal due to present economic conditions.

“This renewal is less money than we really need to continue the services we currently provide,” Seese explained. “However, the trustees felt that our residents may not be willing to increase their property taxes in our current economy. “

The township is “diligently seeking” additional ways to reduce costs while still maintaining the same level of service, Murgatroyd said.

She explained the township’s fire and EMS costs also are supplemented by ambulance collection fees. Resident ambulance collection fees were instituted in May 2000 as an alternative funding method to reduce costs to residents who pay property taxes, Murgatroyd said. The fees are collected through their insurer or waved in certain situations.

“Resident ambulance collections do not result in any out-of-pocket costs to our residents,” she said.

Township officials reported the collection of the ambulance fees for residents and nonresidents is down about 13 percent this year and 24 percent from 2010.

The township also has supplemented the department through the General Fund to help reduce costs to residents. However, Murgatroyd said this support soon would be eliminated due to a “serious” decline in revenues.

“It is just like in our everyday lives, the cost of providing for our household increases even though our income doesn’t,” Seese said. “The township trustees have the same scenario.”

Murgatroyd said the good news is Coventry has “always been ahead of the curve” in terms of combining services and seeking regionalization to improve services while reducing costs. The township reportedly saves tax dollars by merging some services with neighboring fire departments.

According to township officials, department costs also are offset through grant funding. Since 2005, the township has received almost $600,000 in grant funding for training, part-time staffing and capital equipment purchases, Murgatroyd said.

Township officials agree the fire department would continue offering excellent service, despite a loss in funding, as long as the levy renewal is passed.

“As a resident of Coventry Township, I have been impressed with the service and professionalism of our fire/EMS staff. They have an outstanding record of service for the citizens of Coventry Township,” Zoldesy said. “Please support the Coventry Township fire/EMS levy by voting ‘yes.’”

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