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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Sylvania Township: Opponents of fire levies say tax burden too high

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Citizens for Accountable Taxation understands the Sylvania-area fire department's need for money - it's the increasing tax burden on area homeowners that has them opposed to the two tax levies being sought by Sylvania Township trustees for the fire department.

"There are seniors paying more now on taxes than they ever did on their mortgages,'' said levy opponent Deidre Liedel.

The group and some individuals who have spoken out against the proposed levies on the May 3 ballot say they appreciate the fire department and acknowledge that it is a high-performing unit. But, they are also unanimous in saying the levies are just too costly for homeowners.

Together, the levies will increase taxes by 4.05 mills, or cost $248.10 annually for the owner of a $200,000 house.

Pamela Handley, a member of the group, said the issue is growth in the Sylvania community.

Trustees should find a way - such as instituting an impact fee on new construction - that would ease the tax burden on homeowners in the Sylvania community.

Sylvania City Council members also have spoken out about the size of the Trustees should find a levy - such as instituting an impact fee on new construction - that would ease the tax burden on homeowners in the Sylvania community.

Several Sylvania City Council members also have spoken out about the size of the levy and some have said they don't think they were sufficiently informed of the steps taken leading up to the levy.

The fire department is operated by the township, but provides fire and emergency medical response in the city. Township and city residents vote on levies and pay for the service through taxes.

The two governments recently agreed to establish an advisory board with members from each that would have operational oversight of the department.

Township officials acknowledge the price of the levy passage, but contend that it's the cost of maintaining the level of service the public expects in the growing community.

Assistant Fire Chief George France said it is a source of frustration to hear people praise the fire department on the one hand, but oppose the levy.

"This need didn't come out of thin air,'' Mr. France said. "It's very real,'' pointing to a two-year study by professionals and community members from which the levy requests came, after lengthy study and public meetings.

"These are for things we need. This is the barest minimum," he said.

Mr. France said the need to reposition stations and to increase the staffing level of the department translates into time saved responding to emergencies in the community.

John Borell, Sr., a chairman of the committee that supports the levies, said impact fees aren't a solution.

Mr. Borell, who is an attorney in the Lucas County prosecutor's office, said townships don't have the authority to place such fee.

"It's about getting fire and rescue services there where they can do some good," he said.

The fire apparatus and medical equipment aren't of any use if they are too late to an emergency, Mr. Borell said.

The committee's recommendation for millage totalled 4.7 mills or an additional bill of $301 in annual property tax. Trustees cut that to the current request.

The township is seeking a 1.1-mill levy for capital improvements which will allow for the relocation of three fire stations and construction of a fourth. It will also allow the department to make such large purchases as fire engines on a regular 15-year schedule.

If the levies are passed, the fire station in downtown Sylvania will close and a new station will be constructed next to the Sylvania Township Hall in the 4900 block of Holland-Sylvania Road.

The station at Central Avenue near Wilford Road will be closed and replaced by a new station at Central and Plainview Road. A fire station will be constructed at Whiteford and Summerfield roads, replacing the one at Whiteford and Monroe Street.A new station will be built on Sylvania-Metamora Road, just west of Centennial Road.

The operating levy request is for 2.95 mills and will allow for the hiring of 18 firefighters over the next five years. Mr. France said the new personnel are necessary to maintain full-time staffing, because of anticipated layoffs. Personnel are also needed to man the station.



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