Protection at any price?Written by Kevin Milliken | | email@example.com
Kevin Eff and some like-minded residents are doing something they probably never dreamed: working to put a tax levy on the ballot.
No, they’re not doing their part to support the local school system. No, they’re not helping a campaign for the local parks. This is much stranger.
Eff is co-chairing a citizen-based petition drive to place a fire levy on the November ballot for Sylvania Township. Yes, Eff and others are voluntarily organizing an effort that could increase their taxes.
Eff believes his taxes are too high already, as many of us do. But he’s willing to pay more, because he wants recent cuts restored to the Sylvania Township fire department. He thinks the future of his family’s fire protection is in jeopardy because a township fiscal officer recently predicted the fire department is facing a $1.7 million deficit.
Eff alleges public officials are playing politics with fire protection — and he’s not going to stand for it. All he wants is a chance for voters to decide the issue — up or down —and the level of service they pay to receive.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for citizens getting involved in their government. However, rare is the occasion an Ohio homeowner steps forward to ask friends and neighbors to increase their taxes for any reason.
Eff says he wants to feel safer. The township laid off five firefighters and cut ambulance service earlier this year. No one has seen evidence yet, anecdotal or otherwise, that suggests anyone has suffered as a result. But Eff doesn’t want to see that day ever come.
Sylvania Township Trustee Dee Dee Leidel is among those who say the situation is not that bad. Leidel says when all is said and done, the fire department may be only $200,000 to $300,000 in the hole — and the township’s general fund can absorb the loss. She believes there is no need for a levy.
She calls the fiscal officer’s estimate an attempt to “scare citizens.” Leidel says voters have already spoken, rejecting a fire levy in 2005.
Eff counters, saying circumstances are different now, because Sylvania and Sylvania Township citizens were unaware of the financial problems at the fire department. He also says the current levy effort, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $46 per year, will ask for less money.
There is also the possibility, however remote, of a second levy headed to the ballot courtesy of the township trustees themselves. The township is reviewing the need to renovate fire stations, which are showing signs of age and experiencing structural problems. The township administrator has stated a levy may be needed to pay for the improvements.
When was the last time you saw an elected official in the Toledo area openly campaign against more tax revenue? Nope, didn’t think so. It could happen here if the levy makes it to the ballot.
This whole situation boils down to whom you believe. Eff’s group will need 4,000 petition signatures from city and township residents to keep the issue open for debate until November. It’s certainly much easier to sign now and decide later.
Add in the debate at Sylvania City Council over whether to form its own fire department and talk of a possible merger between the city and township, and it’s easy to see why Eff and other residents want to keep their options open.
Eff says it’s about protection, not politics, and letting voters decide the issue. Easier said than done.
But at least citizens are getting involved in their local government. Debate will happen. Voices will be heard. In the end, voters may get the final say — which is the way it should be.
Kevin Milliken is host of “Eye on Toledo,” weeknights at 6 on WSPD-AM 1370.