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Published: Wednesday, 2/20/2008

Sylvania fire levy proponents hope 1 issue is better than 3

BY MIKE JONES
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

Prior to November's election in which three levies for the Sylvania Township fire department were voted down, public meetings to explain the issues were crowded, with many residents complaining about the confusion created by the number of issues.

About a half-dozen people showed up last week at the first of a series of public meetings to explain the fire levy which voters face March 4.

After a presentation of the issue by Fire Chief Frederick Welsh, one woman asked how long the levy would be in effect if it passed and she was told it would be a continuing levy.

It was the only question during the meeting, which was over in about 30 minutes, in marked contrast to the two-hour sessions held before last November's election.

Bruce Wharram, a chairman of the citizen's committee supporting the 1.25-mill levy, noted the sparse attendance at Hill View Elementary School, and said he thinks it is probably a good sign.

"I think people were confused before, and the issue was doomed," he said, adding that the levy request now before the voters is clear cut.

The last election included a request for a 1.5-mill levy supported by a citizens' group which collected signatures to get it on the ballot, and two 0.5-mill issues placed on the ballot by the township trustees.

Mr. Wharram said he hopes people forget the divisiveness of the last election, but understand the importance of passing the issue to raise funds needed to keep the department operating in the way the public expects.

This issue, Mr. Wharram noted, has been agreed to by the trustees, city of Sylvania officials, and by members of the citizens' group which earlier had urged passage of the 1.5-mill levy.

The levy is meant to raise funds both for operations and for capital improvements for the department, which also serves the city of Sylvania.

Chief Welsh said that many of the department's vehicles are "beyond their useful service life."

He noted that two engines are 1985 models and another dates from 1989. Although operable, they are outmoded and "are not compatible with current fuels," he said.

The chief also said that three of the township's fire stations are small and inefficient.

If passed, the township intends to replace three of the department's four fire stations, and remodel the fourth.

The fire station in downtown Sylvania, the chief said, is the oldest and most constrained by space. It is likely that a new station would be built downtown, but not necessarily on the same site.

The station on Central Avenue just west of U.S. 23 also would be rebuilt.

Its location is a problem because of a concrete barrier along the middle of Central. Officials have suggested that it might be repositioned, or the township might buy land nearby, but officials have noted the area is costly for land acquisition.

The cost of new property, however, might be offset with the sale of the property which the station currently occupies.

The other station to be rebuilt if the measure passes is at Whiteford Road and Monroe Street and likely would stay there.

The fourth station, on Sylvania Avenue just east of Centennial Road, would be remodeled and serve as the department's headquarters.

Income from the measure also would allow trustees to hire three full-time professional firefighters, which would restore the number earlier laid off.

Including those laid off, the department has 11 fewer personnel than in 2000, officials said.

A staffing plan developed by Chief Welsh would expand the use of part-time firefighters.

Implementation of a new staffing plan would require agreement from the firefighters' union, the chief said.

He declined to speculate about what might happen if the issue would fail. Trustees have said the township can't operate at a loss.

Mr. Wharram said that failure to adequately fund the department could result in closing one of the stations, mothballing some equipment, and potential layoffs.

If passed, the measure is designed to raise almost $1.9 million annually.

To begin capital projects right away, the trustees would borrow money with a bond or other loan.

It is estimated that the fire station construction costs would be about $8.2 million and the cost to update apparatus in the department would be about $2.1 million.

The measure would cost $38.28 annually for the owner of a house valued at $100,000, according to township trustees.



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