West Chester trustees move to ask voters for 2 levies in November

West Chester Twp. trustees have agreed to ask voters in November to approve new 2-mill levies for both police and fire as reserves dwindle from existing levies that have been on the books for some time.

The trustees unanimously voted on resolutions declaring a necessity for both new levies Tuesday, setting in motion the process to get the questions on the November ballot. 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 existing 6-mill 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 — generated from the existing 7-mill levy — 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.

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

“This is not an increase in services, this is not added staff or anything else,” Finance Director Ken Keim said previously. “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.”

Trustee Mark Welch two weeks ago said he wanted to look into the timing of the mandatory property reassessment and potential of using tax increment financing dollars as a stop gap measure, before approving the levy requests. A new bill moving through the state legislature allows governments to use up to 25 percent of TIF money for two years to help support safety services.

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds at the time was waiting to hear if the state tax commissioner would allow him to delay the property reassessment in the midst of the devastating coronavirus pandemic. The commissioner has since denied the request.

Welch told the Journal-News he has changed his mind on the TIF option. TIF dollars are primarily used for infrastructure.

“There’s this little thing in the back of my head that says we’re robbing Peter to Paul here,” Welch said. “I don’t know if you’re just putting a Band-aid over the problem, because these levies are old if we used 25 percent of the TIF dollars it might take us through a couple years but I think you’re just delaying the inevitable.”

Welch said he fully supports asking the voters for new money.

Township Administrator Larry Burks said the two levies support not only the those two departments but the 911 dispatch center. He said he believes the residents appreciate knowing their emergency calls are being answered dispatched locally by people who know the township.

Trustee Lee Wong said the need is there.

“We are way overdue for an update on our levy…,” Wong said. “We have stretched it almost double, the five-year levy almost double. That shows our fiscal responsibility. Our police department today the call for services even more, almost 50,000 and another 7,000 for fire/EMT. To maintain this quality of service we have to kick it up.”

Trustee Board President Ann Becker concurred.

“I think all three of us have really taken a strong stand to have an expectation of fiscal responsibility with our citizens’ money,” Becker said. “When we looked at all the facts, all the data through the years, the trajectory of where we were going with our levy, we had to make a decision and this is the right decision.”

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