Biggest stories of 2019: Liberty Twp. built for growth, made moves for fire department

The Liberty Twp. trustees are about to embark on building a new $5.4 million fire station and renovating two other facilities.
The Liberty Twp. trustees are about to embark on building a new $5.4 million fire station and renovating two other facilities.

The Liberty Twp. trustees were focused largely on township building construction in 2019, but asking voters for more money for police protection elicited the most deliberation and debate.

The township has been one of the fastest growing in the state, quadrupling in size over two decades. Adding residents and businesses requires adding services, people and space to house them all. The trustees devoted the most amount of time this year trying to predict how much taxpayers must pay now to keep people safe in the future.

Trustee Board President Steve Schramm said the township put a “monumental effort” into a tax levy request, with a zero dollar impact, voters approved in November.

“It was a resounding success from the voters’ perspective,” Schramm said. “The only thing we’ve got to be concerned about is any explosive growth we may see between now and the end of that five-year span, that would cause some of our guesstimates to be wrong. At that point we’ll go back and talk to the voters again.”

Here are some of the bigger issues of 2019 the township dealt with:

Liberty Twp. voters approve 3-mill police levy renewal overwhelmingly

Liberty Twp. voters passed the 3-mill police levy renewal by 81 to 19 percent in the Nov. 5 election.

Trustee Christine Matacic argued for a renewal plus a new 0.50-mill levy, which would have cost an extra $17 per $100,000 of home valuation and Schramm agreed with her at the outset. He and Trustee Tom Farrell eventually agreed to take a wait-and-see approach.

The trouble was trying to predict needs five years out. The township contracts with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office for police protection, and Major Mike Craft had recommended adding four new deputies over the course of the new five-year contract. The trustees ratified a new $3 million deal with the sheriff in October with no additional staff.

The trustees also debated a renewal or a replacement, which would capture new valuations and bring in an estimated $3.3 million, but there is a catch in that option. If the expiring levy is disturbed, taxpayers would lose their state-paid Homestead Exemption tax rollbacks.

Changing the location of the new administration center/sheriff’s outpost

Construction on the new $4.8 million Liberty Twp. administration building and sheriff’s outpost on Ohio 747 is well underway.

The project’s cost including land purchase is below the estimate of $5.2 million. The township paid $954,000 for the land in an office park on Ohio 747 between Princeton and Millikin roads for the 15,000-square-foot building in 2018. Construction is estimated at $3.8 million. Taxpayer-backed bonds are funding the building.

Trustees considered purchasing the building where they reside now on Liberty Centre Drive. They thought they could put the monthly $8,035 lease payments toward an outright purchase when the five-year lease was up, but that deal didn’t materialize.

Officials also considered using property the township already owns and at which it holds its meetings on Princeton Road for the new administration building, but clearing the site would have cost an estimated $1.8 million.

Township adds nine career firefighter/medics with federal grant

Liberty Twp. received $1.36 million in funding from Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response and Assistance to Firefighters (SAFER) grants to hire nine firefighters in September and hired the new personnel this month.

The hiring grants pay for 75 percent of the salaries and benefits for two years and 35 percent in the third year.

Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Ethan Klussman said he was “ecstatic” when he learned the township won the grant because there are thousands of agencies vying for the funds. This was the first time the township competed for the funding.

“We’ve been working towards a plan which would add career Firefighter/EMT positions, and being awarded FEMA’s SAFER grant allows us to expedite our process,” Klussman said. “Adding nine full-time positions will allow us to provide the consistent personnel we need to run the department more efficiently and stretch our budget dollars further.”

Township embarking on a comprehensive and visioning plan

The trustees hired American Structurepoint, Inc. for $85,000 earlier this year to steer the strategic plan process. The community engagement meetings the township held are just a fraction of the entire project that includes a comprehensive look at the township today and plans for the future.

Schramm said the visioning plan hits multiple topics.

“They will reach out to them on kind of everything,” Schramm said. “On how they see development going forward, whether that business residential mix is just a pipe dream of mine or whether that’s reflected by the total community. How they see our roads, how they see our walkability, how they see our Millikin Road vision, our Liberty vision, hopefully the questions will allow us to kind of reach into everybody’s minds on all of the things we look forward to in the way of development.”

The township is continuing the comprehensive plan process and trustees will approve it in the spring. More information about the plan is available here: https://www.planlibertytwp.com/get-involved.

Township could save several million dollars on new fire station

Taking a deliberate approach and considering several scenarios helped the Liberty Twp. trustees save more than $3 million on a new fire station, officials said.

A new facility on Princeton Road, which will replace the tiny Yankee Road station, and improvements to two existing stations are estimated to cost $6 million — about $5.4 million for the new station and the rest for renovations. The bids were due Dec. 17 but have been delayed until early January.

“Good things take time,” Trustee Tom Farrell said of the nearly two-year process to build new Station 112.