West Chester to seek both police and fire levies, but coronavirus could impact them

Both the West Chester Twp. police and fire departments will be asking taxpayers for new money in November. The department levies have not been touched since 2010 and 2006 respectively. The 2-mill levies would generate an additional $8.8 million collectively. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Both the West Chester Twp. police and fire departments will be asking taxpayers for new money in November. The department levies have not been touched since 2010 and 2006 respectively. The 2-mill levies would generate an additional $8.8 million collectively. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Saying new public safety levies won’t cost taxpayers more than a large pizza every month, the West Chester Twp. trustees appear ready to ask voters to approve new 2-mill levies for both the fire and police departments.

The trustees were briefed on the proposed November levies Tuesday but will not vote until June 23 to proceed.

The fire levy has gone untouched, meaning it hasn’t been replaced or adjusted at all, since 2006. For police, it has been since 2010. Fire expenses for this year are projected at $16.8 million against approximately $14.6 million in total revenues. The fire fund has a $12.2 million carryover from last year, which is expected to drop to nearly zero in 2022.

The police department budget is $18.3 million versus $12.6 million in revenues with about $10.7 million in carryover to balance the budget. The police carryover is also expected to drop to nothing in a couple years.

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“This is not an increase in services, this is not added staff or anything else,” Finance Director Ken Keim said. “This levy would ask simply to maintain existing services in the two departments plus the 911 communications center as they are. The impact of a 2-mill levy for an average home value in West Chester equals the cost of a monthly large pizza.”

The existing levies, 6-mills for fire and 7-mills for police would remain intact. The new 2-mill levies would generate about $4.4 million each. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $23 a month or $180 annually.

The old levies generate the same amount of income each year but the new levies would capture increased property values. Keim told the Journal-News his revenue generation assumptions were based on a 5 percent increase, because of the mandatory 2020 property reevaluation. Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds has said depending on the neighborhood, property values increased about 15 percent. He has asked the state tax commissioner to allow him to delay the reassessment a year, due to the negative impact the coronavirus has had on people’s pocketbooks.

During the Great Recession, Reynolds was forced to implement newly reassessed values but then a year later adjusted the properties back down to reflect the true housing market.

Reynolds had a conference call with the tax commissioner Wednesday but said he is still waiting on final a decision. That decision could have a big impact on revenues the new levies might generate.

Trustee Mark Welch told the Journal-News another matter connected to the pandemic could buy the township more time before having to go to the ballot. There is an item in the pending SB 310 coronavirus relief bill that would allow the township to use a portion of tax increment financing (TIF) money to support safety services.

Keim said he has many unanswered questions about the legislation that has been garnering strong support from state legislators.

“That proposed legislation would allow for 25 percent of TIF funds to be used for public safety for two years,” Keim told the Journal-News. “But what’s unknown to us, is that 25 percent of the annual collections or 25 percent of the balances that you have. Is that to be repaid after the two years and if that’s the case that would not help us in our current situation. And is it limited to lost revenue because of the coronavirus.”

Welch said he needs clarity on those two issues before he’ll agree to place it on the ballot, although he agrees the need exists.

“I don’t know flip, a coin, throw a dart, there’s so many potential variables in this thing, who has a crystal ball that can read that stuff,” Welch told the Journal-News but added inaction is not an option. “The amount of money that we collect is dwindling only because of inflation but expenses go up.”

Trustee Board President Ann Becker acknowledged the timing for asking for new money, let alone two levies at once during a raging economic crisis is not optimal, but staff has proven the need.

“I never want to raise taxes so I had a really high expectation of our chiefs to make sure they were doing everything they possibly could to economize and stretch that dollar for the voters,” Becker said. “And I think they did a good job or else I wouldn’t have even considered a levy.”

If the levies fail officials say staffing and service cuts will follow.

“We haven’t had a levy for a long time,” Trustee Lee Wong said. “We have to keep the township running properly and people got to know that it costs money to run a police department and fire services, especially for good services. So I hope people will take that into consideration. It is very important for our quality of life, safety.”


West Chester Safety Services By the Numbers:

Fire Department:

Revenues: $14.6 million

2020 expenses: $16.8 million

Carryover: $12.2 million

Police Department

Revenue: $12.6 million

2020 expenses: $18.3 million

Carryover: $10.7 million

New levies combined: $8.8 million

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