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Published: Wednesday, 7/28/2004

Sylvania city, township call fire truce

BY MEREDITH HEAGNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sylvania City Council and Sylvania Township trustees have called a temporary ceasefire in what has been a sometimes-ugly debate over a joint fire district.

Last week the township announced it would not put a fire levy on the November ballot and in turn, the council agreed to halt a new committee formed to study a joint district. The fire department is run by the township and is funded by residents of the township and the city.

"If [the township] is going to hold off on a levy...I absolutely agree that we can hold off on looking at a joint district," council President Barbara Sears said. She has said that because city taxpayers contribute about one-third of the department's total revenue, they should have a greater say in its direction.

In a July 8 letter to council, the trustees emphatically disagreed. They were responding to a request Ms. Sears had made to form a committee to consider a joint district.

"[City residents] vote for township trustee," said Trustee Dennis Boyle. They also vote for fire levies. "How much more of a voice can they have?"

The letter said a new committee to study the district would be, "a duplication of effort and a waste of WWare already two committees in place looking at similar issues. The Fire Facilities Advisory Board is looking at the current facilities and determining whether new ones are needed. In addition, the city and the township are participating in a Sylvania Area Community Improvement Corporation study considering the economic benefit of consolidating fire and other services.

"At this point, I have not seen a positive effect for the township, the city, the citizens of the community," said township Administrator Brad Peebles. "What you would really be creating is an additional level of government that would create redundancies and additional costs."

Ms. Sears wishes that the trustees would simply sit down with the council members and discuss the issue.

"I was shocked that the township won't even send a representative to sit down and have a conversation," she said, "to manage and protect people's tax money."

Mr. Peebles and Mr. Boyle said that if the CIC study recommends a joint district, they will discuss it with the city. Mr. Boyle said that Ms. Sears has taken up this issue for political purposes.

"She's trying to drive a wedge between the city and the township," he said. "I think it's no secret she would someday like to be the mayor of Sylvania, and I think she's trying to make a name for herself."

Ms. Sears maintains that she is not trying to be "aggressive and hostile," words used in the July 8 letter. Her vision for an oversite board is tipped in favor of the township. She said the board could be made up of 40 percent city representatives and 60 percent from the township, proportional to population. Ms. Sears suggests citizens and elected officials serve side-by-side on the committee.

"You could put together some talented people that wouldn't be subjected to elections all the time," she said.

Ms. Sears became interested in the issue after serving on the facilities board, which is considering the construction of five new fire stations through a levy that may be up next year. Council member Keith Haddad said the department could benefit with more diversity in management.

"The council or the mayor really don't have a say in how the fire district is run," he said.

Ms. Sears is uneasy asking the voters for a levy when the last one passed, in 2001, was supposed to last 10 years.

"It needs to be better managed so it's not so expensive to the taxpayer," said Ms. Sears. She estimated the annual cost per person is $126, based on 45,000 Sylvania-area residents.

The tentative draft of the levy would call for a 1-mill 20-year bond issue for capital improvements and an operational levy of undetermined size. One reason the proposal was stalled is because of the 4.9-mill operating levy being sought by the school district in November.

Contact Meredith Heagney at:

mheagney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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