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Residents asked to direct Coventry into future

7/31/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

Trustee lays out reasons for larger fire, EMS levy on ballot

COVENTRY — Coventry Trustee David Calderone said residents of Coventry are at a crossroads when it comes to township services.

He said residents must choose to pay more for the continuation of township services or keep their taxes steady and see a decline in safety assistance and a deterioration of local roads as a result.

“Coventry Township is at a critical juncture, and I am concerned people don’t recognize it,” he said.

Calderone wants residents to understand township officials significantly cut costs in all departments over recent years but are unable to make additional reductions without negatively impacting the quality of township services.

He recently sat down with the South Side News Leader, on behalf of the Coventry Township Board of Trustees, to discuss the time and effort the trustees and township department heads have put in, as well as the process used to determine how to keep all areas of the township operating soundly.

During the past several months, the board and township department heads held several financial planning meetings specifically to evaluate Coventry’s long-term financial status over its four basic primary areas of services: police, fire and EMS, roads and parks, and general services, Calderone explained.

“The first step in developing our strategic financial plan was establishing our overarching goal for the township,” he said. “It was determined that our goal is to maintain the services currently provided.”

Next, the board and township department heads evaluated the past five years of township revenues and expenses and developed a seven-year projection of what it would take fiscally to maintain current services, he said.

The township’s General Fund, Road Department and policing each are supported by one five-year levy, and the Fire Department is supported by two five-year levies, Calderone said.

The current 4.65-mill fire and EMS levy is the next levy set to expire, at the end of 2015, he said.

Before the board decided on whether to seek a renewal or larger fire and EMS levy, it had to consider all township services and all revenue sources — primarily existing levies — because all township services rely on the General Fund as a safety net if expenses exceed revenue, as they often do, Calderone explained.

Consequently, before board members could focus on the next fire and EMS levy, they had to evaluate the effect a new policing contract would have on township finances, he said.

Recently, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office submitted to the board a new three-year contract. The township currently contracts with the Sheriff’s Office to have one deputy on duty in the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 365 days a year, Calderone has said.

The Sheriff’s Office will be increasing the rate it charges the township for the next three-year contract by 21 percent for 2015, 2 percent for 2016 and 2 percent for 2017, he has explained. The cost for next year would be $737,000, Calderone has said, and $753,000 in 2016 and $768,000 in 2017.

He said the Sheriff’s Office offered discounts in the past that it will not be offering in the new contract.

Calderone said the township’s current police levy is being collected through 2017, so it would be difficult for Coventry to afford the new contract. The unexpected increase of 21 percent for the first year of the new contract would result in a budget shortage of $355,000, Calderone said. He said the board decided to plan for this shortage to be paid from the General Fund.

“It is important to note that the policing contracts with the Sheriff’s Office currently do not sync with the levy that supports the contract,” he said. “This fact has become very problematic for the township.”

In 2009, the Sheriff’s Office also increased the cost of the contract significantly without notice, he said.

The Sheriff’s Office began charging more than $100,000 for dispatching fees. At that time, the board decided to reduce police protection to only one deputy on duty at any given time instead of having two on duty, he said.

“The township has still not recovered from this reduction of services,” Calderone said.

According to Calderone, the board also had to evaluate areas of concern within the Road Department, specifically the road resurfacing and ditching program.

The Road Department primarily is funded by a 1-mill levy that was established in 1992 and has not increased since, he said. To compensate for the lack of increased funding, past trustees decided to cut Road Department staffing by almost half, Calderone said.

In 1992, the Road Department staffing was seven full-time staff and several part-time staff during the summer. Currently, the staffing includes four full-time employees with no part-time staff, he said.

The impact of flat revenue, increasing costs and the loss of workforce has resulted in the township severely cutting back its road resurfacing and ditching program, Calderone said.

“This has been very problematic, as roads and ditches continue to wear out and, because of their worsening condition, the roads often are more expensive to maintain,” he explained.

Currently, the primary source of money to properly fund the road resurfacing and ditching program is the General Fund or a new levy, Calderone said. He added the board does not want to add more levies for the Road Department at this time.

Next, the board gave attention to the Fire Department and the upcoming expiration of the 4.6-mill levy, he said.

Coventry Fire Department revenues have decreased by almost $500,000 in the past five years due to the loss of grant funding, the reduction of property values and a significant drop in revenue from the State of Ohio, Calderone has said.

In light of the $335,000 shortage for police protection, the almost $500,000 decrease in revenue for the Fire Department and a lack of funding needed for road resurfacing and ditching, the trustees decided it was best to seek a larger levy for the Fire Department, he said.

The board is placing a 7.75-mill fire and EMS levy on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot to generate $1.8 million for the continuation of safety services in the township. If the levy were approved, money from the General Fund, about $200,000, once directed to the Fire Department each year would be redirected to the annual road resurfacing and ditching program, Calderone said.

“The board recognizes that any increase in taxes is problematic for our taxpayers,” he said. “However, the board is obligated to take reasonable action to maintain excellent, but minimal, township fire, EMS, road and police services.”

Additionally, the board is in the process of soliciting pricing quotes from neighboring communities to see if the township feasibly could gain more police protection but at a cheaper rate than being offered in the new contract with the Sheriff’s Office, he said.

“It is the intention of the board to continue to explore strategies to improve efficiency, but there is only so much that can be done,” Calderone said. “The board is committed to make every attempt to educate the community on what the trustees are doing and why they are doing it. An informed voter is our best asset. With a clear understanding of the facts, the board is confident the voters will make the right decision.”

Calderone said the board wants to hear from residents concerning the financial state of the township. All feedback would be appreciated, whether it comes via emails or during the comment portions of regular Board of Trustees meetings.

“We work for our constituents,” he said.

In addition, various township meetings will be scheduled so voters understand the increased fire and EMS levy on the ballot, the state of the township’s finances and the future of Coventry, in general, Calderone said.

To reach the township administration office, call 330-644-0785.

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