SIDNEY — The need for a third fire station and how proposed income tax levy funds will be spent was explained during Monday’s Sidney City Council in response to questions previously presented by a Sidney resident.
During the Feb. 25 meeting, Bon Air Circle resident John Adams ask council for clarity about Fire Station No. 3 and the proposed levy on the upcoming May ballot. Council set aside time Monday to respond to each of Adams’s eight questions along with a prepared PowerPoint presentation on the need.
The current 0.25 percent levy, which has been on the books for five years, is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2019. Council is asking voters to approve a new 0.3 percent income tax levy on the May ballot. It will be divided between road repairs (0.15 percent) and the fire department (0.15 percent).
Adams told council on Feb. 25, citizens voted for the expiring levy because they wanted “good, smooth roads” and the that new levy in May will “short change what everyone wants by decreasing funding for road improvements.”
The “numbers” of the proposed 0.3 percent tax levy will be, Adams said in February, a “20 percent tax increase, but a 40 percent cut to roads … a 40 percent cut to its current funding level, going from 0.25 to 0.15.”
City Manager Mark Cundiff responded to Adams’s eight questions with following:
• What is the proposed length of this levy?
The proposed levy is an ongoing levy; it does not have an end date or term limit.
• What is the current dollar amount to construct Station No. 3?
A construction cost of $4.3 million was estimated after the recent architecture master planning process was completed. As outlined in the 2019-2023 Five Year Plan, the city budgeted $50,000 in 2018 for conceptual design and $275,000 in 2019 for initial engineering services for the proposed third fire station. If the proposed levy does not pass, the $275,000 will not be spent.
• With seven new hires at the fire department, what is the cost to operate over the next eight years?
Using the same assumptions as used in the 2019-2023 Five Year Plan, it is estimated to cost $13.7 million to staff and operate the third fire station for the next eight years.
• Where can I get an updated copy of the Community Risk Assessment?
The assessment was included the PowerPoint presentation which can be viewed at https://sidneycityoh.documents-on-demand.com/?l=0af95919e2dc4ce38d55131ef45960e6&r=2019&d=72899851bc41e911a2cb000c29a59557 .
• This levy can be used for the “future tactical village and public safety training center.” Is that correct?
No, that is not correct. The revenue from the 0.3 percent will be specifically restricted to city road work and the construction, operation, and maintenance of a third fire station. The ballot language states, “Fifty percent (50 percent) of the revenue from such additional income tax shall be dedicated for the purposes of fire department operations and capital improvements and equipment, maintenance and repair of the same, and paying debt service for such purposes.” Only if the expenditure is considered an expenditure of the fire department could levy funds be used for the future tactical village and public safety training center.
• A mileage check from Station No. 1 to the cul-de-sac of Summer Field Trail (northern most housing development) revealed a one mile difference, with Station No. 3 being shorter. Response times will vary due to several variables.
The performance gap in service delivery is for the entire northern area of town not just Summer Field Trail. Travel times to the north end of the city are greater than other areas of the city. There were several factors that can influence the performance gap; however, the information contained in the 2009 Standard of Cover, 2014 Analysis and 2019 Master Planning Process (included in the PowerPoint presentation) all indicate the travel distance in the northern sectors to be a largest contributing factor.
• Does this levy create a permanent tax? (page six of the 2019-2023 Five Year Financial Plan).
Yes, the proposed levy is an ongoing levy; it does not have an end date or term limit.
• The city of Sidney purchased in 2017 12.5 acres of land. Is this the same land or different from the “purchase of additional 15 acres for a fire educational complex?” (page 101 of Capitol Improvement Plan 2019-2023)
These are different pieces of property. The 12.5 acres of land at 2401 Wapakoneta Drive is the land the city purchased for the third station. This fire station is the immediate need. The training center portion would use alternative funding sources, not levy funds. The additional 15 acres mentioned on page 101 of the 2019-2023 Five Year Plan was not purchased. The formal option to purchase this land was allowed to expire.
As a follow up question, Adams asked what are the remaining road mileage repairs for current levy funds expiring in December, and if repairs will be completed this year. Adams said he doesn’t think the 0.15 will be enough, given five years ago 0.25 was needed and costs have gone up. Cundiff spoke in the absence of Assistant City Manager/Public Works Director Gary Clough, who is the expert on Sidney street repairs. Cundiff said the need was so great five years ago because a previous street levy failed and streets were in bad shape. He said Clough’s professional opinion is the city has been able to catch up with needed repairs and the 0.15 levy funds should be adequate for repairs still needed.
After the questions were answered, Fire Chief Brad Jones gave a PowerPoint presentation to further elaborate. It is available on the city’s website under Municipal Income Tax Levy presentation at http://www.sidneyoh.com/News_Events/index.asp A list of frequently asked questions about the levy can also be found on that web page.
“The 0.30 would not begin until 2020, when the current funding expires. It does not tax Social Security, pensions, investments, disabilities or interests,” Jones said. “Both city administration and council feels this is the most fair way to do it since over half of the individuals who paid income tax in town don’t live here, specifically 53 percent, but they still use our services, drive our streets and dial 911 when they need someone to show up when they are at work.”
Jones said Sidney citizens, when asked, said the two most important things to them are public safety and streets. By combining the two on one levy, the city will tackle both, he said.
The city of Sidney will complete street repairs with the 0.15 funds, Jones said, and keep the pavement condition rating (PCR) goal of 70.
He then reiterated the need for a third fire station by comparing current to future average fire and EMS response times in Sidney.
The standard is a 6.5 minute response time for fire calls. The fire data showed SFD responded 92 percent of the time in 6.5 minutes to the center portion of Sidney, 88 percent to the west, 30 percent to the contractual areas, and only 62 percent of the time to the north of town.
The standard is a 6 minute response time for EMS calls, Jones said. The medical call data for 2018 showed SFD successfully arrived within 6 minutes 89 percent of the time to the center of town, 82 percent to the west, 22 percent to the contractual areas, and less than 50 percent of the time to areas north of Russell Road.
Jones emphasized the proposed 0.15 levy funds for Fire Station No. 3 would only be for the construction, operation, and maintenance of a third fire station. None of the levy funds would be for a potential future tactical village and public safety training center to be located behind Station 3. Those funds will be sought in the future with funding partners, he said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.