Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The Sylvania community is nearing one of the highest taxed communities in Lucas County. While taxes are necessary to support quality services such as: the school system, senior center, safety services, infrastructure, recreation and park systems - it is equally imperative that Government Leaders provide quality service at a reasonable cost and successfully plan and save for future services, so as not to create an undue tax burden for its citizens.
Over the last few years we have improved service efficiencies, implemented cost saving and spending control measures throughout the township. As a result our reserves have increased over $6 million in the last three years and the Township was awarded the highest financial bond rating in Lucas County placing us in the top 10% in the State! Our annual budget process now includes a rolling five-year projection, enabling us to see year-to-year the status of necessary funding to maintain township services. With this level of 'savings' we can commit to maintaining excellent services in Sylvania Township while not increasing your taxes.
We are committed to helping you make it through this economic downturn - we will not raise taxes in the next four years. Your family has to live within its means, our families have to live within our means, it's about time government does the same.
While others may say they are against tax increases and may even promise not to raise taxes, look at what has been said and how people have voted. It is easy to make a promise based on someone else's hard work. But it is Pam and I who have actually followed through on fiscal restraint and lowering taxes, putting the township in the position of being able to not raise taxes for at least four years (and maybe longer).
(Disclaimer: I will note that the pledge of no new taxes does not apply to special assessments when petitioned for by a segment of residents for things such as street lighting, etc.)
(Note: the following numbers exclude any capital transactions especially those related to the fire department's voter-approved capital plan).
This was possible through diligent review of expenditures, careful planning and fiscal restraint. With cost efficiencies and fiscal discipline, we were able to 1) stop the borrowing the fire department had become dependent upon; 2) hire 5 new firefighters; 3) begin to repay the general fund the monies the Fire Department had borrowed and perhaps most importantly, 4) maintained the quality service our community expects and deserves.
So although our spending in the Road department has increased 33%, our service delivery to township residents and businesses has considerably expanded and improved. No longer is the road department simply picking up leaves and plowing roads; they are focusing on the very infrastructure that upholds our quality community. Fiscal restraint isn't just about spending less money; it is prioritizing the money we do spend so that we are spending it wisely and with focused priorities.
First, we have stepped up enforcement in the Zoning Department, including adding one full-time employee and a Certified Planner to help address some of the zoning and planning issues the Township faces. We have also hired a full-time Budget Director. Sylvania Township is an entity with a $24 million budget and a $10 million capital plan and employs over 150 people. We need someone who can oversee our budget and investments on a daily basis, as well as help each department with long-term planning. We are no longer reactionary in our fiscal policy, we are proactive and that benefits every department in the Township.
Finally, the general fund has taken on the expense of leaf and brush pickups. In the past, these were expenses of the Road Department but state law clearly directs that these services can only be provided in townships if the money comes out of the general fund, not money dedicated to maintaining and improving roads. So while this is an increase in spending for the General Fund, it was money that was already being spent but was accounted for in another fund.
Also, a $500,000 loan from the Road Department to the General Fund was repaid, which increased spending in the General Fund. This loan was made several years ago (before I became a trustee) in order to keep the Fire Department afloat. While this money was not intended to be paid back when it was borrowed, we felt it was appropriate since the Road Department is funded off of revenue from the unincorporated township while the Fire Department provides services to the unincorporated areas and the City of Sylvania.
The cash reserves that we have built up are important because they will help insure quality services for the next several years as our community and region works its way through the bad economy, including a decline of property tax revenue of about $500,000 for the township due to a drop in property values. We can continue to provide quality services without going to the taxpayers for more money because we have built up these reserves. If we had not, if we have continued the prior practices of spending most of what the township had - we would be in the unfortunate position of having to ask for more taxes or reducing services. But because we have been diligent and conscious of our spending, we are ready - and I am committed - to making it through the next four years without raising taxes.
We also received an update of our spending through September 2009 at a recent trustee meeting. With 3/4 of the year over, departments have spent 65-70% of their annual budget. A few line items are over budget, but overall spending is below expectations.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I am very happy to announce that Sylvania Township's offer to purchase property to relocate Fire Station #2 has been accepted. Property located at 3004 McCord Road (between the two medical buildings on McCord just south of Central) was identified several months ago as meeting the specific needs of the Fire Department with regard to location, access to north/south and east/west corridors and lot size. With the cooperation of The Toledo Hospital, current owners of the parcel, the Township will be able to relocate Station #2 to a site which first and foremost, will maintain excellent response times in this area of the township, while at the same time is affordable and does not encroach upon residential areas.
One of the major advantages of this location is its access to both McCord Road and Central Ave. For those familiar with the Central Park West Access Road, the new location is adjacent to the access road, providing access not only directly onto McCord Road south of Central, but will also provide convenient and quick access to Central Avenue at the traffic light at Central Park West. This is a marked improvement over the non-lighted access of the current station and thus improves the safety of not only our Fire Personnel but the traveling public as well.
The Toledo Hospital and ProMedica has made extensive investments in the Sylvania community, providing quality medical care to our residents and businesses, while providing valuable jobs and contributing to our solid tax base which funds our schools, parks, and safety services. I appreciate their willingness to help us improve the service of the Fire Department by making available to us this new location for Station #2.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
We took this step because the Police Department is on sound financial footing while maintaining quality service levels that the Township has come to expect. This was possible through the hard work and dedication of our officers and department staff in watching expenses, while at the same time we negotiated reasonable raises and bonuses for these employees, something that many other governments are unable to do during this economic climate.
It took a while, but finally I was able to sit down with various stakeholders in the community, including City of Sylvania officials and members of Safe Sylvania, to help build consensus and a compromise on what the community can afford and what the fire department needs. Everyone was in agreement that new facilities and equipment were needed (due both to the age of the facilities/equipment and due to past neglect); we needed more flexibility in staffing; and we needed a volunteer force that supports the work of the full-time firefighters, especially in dealing with high-demand events such as extreme weather conditions or a large structure fire.
The end result of my efforts to find a compromise was the 1.25 Mill Levy which was approved by voters in March 2008. The levy will provide for four new fire engines (three of which we have already taken delivery of and are putting in to service); renovation of Station #4 and construction of three new stations; hiring of five new firefighters including adding a new day-shift to provide better flexibility and help address training/overtime issues; and a revamped volunteer force. Work has begun on each part of the levy promises, with some portions having been completed.
In looking back both at the failed 2005 Fire Levy and the successful 2004 Police levy which, as indicated by our continued tax holiday more than adequately funds the police department, it becomes apparent that prior boards thought we needed to spend more, a lot more, to maintain quality services and even expand those services extensively. Part of this can be attributed to population trends that indicated Sylvania Township was going to grow 10,000-15,000 people in the current decade. Such growth rates have not been realized. But beyond that, it is important to note that when asked to, better yet - when expected to, these departments can remain in budget; they can provide top-quality services at a price our community can afford.
A Re-Dedication and Open House has been scheduled on October 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. for the community to see the renovated Station #4 on Sylvania Ave.
Of great impact is that the winning bid came in at $1,359,000, almost $400,000 below our architects' pre-bid estimate. Station #3 is the third of 6 major capital projects planned for with the approximately $10 million capital plan funded by the 1.25 mill levy. These first three phases (including the new fire engines, Station #4 renovations, and Station #3 construction) were estimated to cost about $4,596,000. Total bids/payments is under $4,200,000 or 90% of the expected costs. This, in my opinion, is a good indication that we can bring the entire capital project within budget if not below budget while making sure the needs of the Fire Department are met.
With property secured, easements filed, and contract awarded, we are ready to move forward. There will be a ground breaking ceremony at Station #3 on October 19 at 1 p.m. More information will be posted at the township's website at www.sylvaniatownship.com.
As we move through the building process and saw that the budget allowed for a certain amount of flexibility, additional energy efficient systems have been considered and for the most part added to our plans. Previously we authorized amendments to the plans to include solar domestic hot water systems. Earlier this week, we authorized design work and a test well for a Geothermal HVAC system at Station #3. The advantages of such a system are numerous, including reducing our annual energy consumption, reducing our carbon footprint, and guarding against operational cost increases in the way of increasing energy costs.
We were also the recipients of a Pervious Concrete Demonstration Project Grant of $40,000. "The Pervious Concrete Demonstration Project will address environmental water quality issues in the region and provide a model for other communities to follow. It will result in improved water quality within the Ottawa River watershed. The combined resources of [USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service] and [Sylvania Township] will result in enhancing the protection of land and water resources in the basis." Grant proceeds will be used to install a pervious concrete parking lot in Station #3 (and thus reduce our costs for the parking lot) and monitor the quality of water runoff (in conjunction with the University of Toledo) for several years.
In the meantime, a third firefighter retired this year bringing our current staffing level to 53 firefighters. We will continue to hire firefighters to fulfill the fire levy promise, but are delaying that hiring authorization due to a pending SAFER Grant; hires made before award of any grant do not count and we do not want to miss a grant opportunity if possible. We hope to hear about the grant shortly and will be taken action as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, our volunteer force has several new faces, one of which successfully made the switch to full-time firefighter during our first round of hiring. The volunteer firefighters continue to play a vital role in our department, including responding to calls when needed, managing our Fire Hydrant Inspection Program and other activities that contribute to the efficient and effective operation of the Sylvania Township Fire Department.
• Increasing fire training, including new training facilities, live fire training exercises, and mutual training opportunities with surrounding jurisdictions;
• Increase mutual aid assistance with Springfield Township to provide safer highway emergency response;
• Introduce Fire Hydrant Inspection Program lead by our volunteer firefighters to confirm the availability and access to all fire hydrants within the service territory;
• Introduce Fire/EMS Dispatch Policy to the dispatch department to better meet the needs of the Fire Department;
• Inspecting every commercial building in the City of Sylvania and Sylvania Township each year.
To summarize, the Sylvania Township Fire Department continues to provide the best service in Lucas County, but at 1/3 the tax increase that was asked for back in 2005. Government can provide quality services at less cost; we just have to be work at it. That is work that I have been doing and am willing and committed to continuing.
Please, forward this email to other voters in Sylvania. With less than a month to go, it is important that I get my message out about a Quality Community You Can Afford to Live In.
Sylvania Township Trustee
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
While police and fire are vital to the quality of Sylvania Township today, zoning and planning are vital to the quality of Sylvania Township in the future. This Township update will talk about the improvements in our Zoning Department which will help keep Sylvania Township a quality community.
To help guide future growth, Sylvania Township has a Master Land Use Plan which helps to identify desirable areas for commercial, residential, and industrial development with the intent that new developments would compliment and blend well with nearby uses. When I was elected, our Land Use Plan had not been updated since 2001. In 2007, we went through the process of updating our Land Use Plan. We held public meetings and took surveys from residents so that you could tell us what you wanted Sylvania Township to look like including landscape, signs, building facades, etc.
One of the outcomes of updating the Land Use Plan was to identify areas of conflict between our Land Use Plan and our Zoning Resolution. We have been working to correct those conflicts in order to help clarify the intent of the Land Use Plan and better guide future zoning. The Land Use Plan Committee also recommended the adoption of various building standards in order to help preserve the high quality construction and architecture that Sylvania Township is known for.
We are working on these recommendations as well.
Although clearly the real estate market has slowed, I would anticipate revisiting our Master Land Use Plan again in a year or two, after we have resolved the majority of conflicts between the Zoning Resolution and Land Use Plan. This will keep our zoning laws progressive and supportive of quality development in Sylvania Township.
As just mentioned, our zoning department is working on drafting new provisions to help guide new development and redevelopment in Sylvania Township. This includes a sign code, landscape standards and design standards. While the majority of development that has happened in the township is of high quality and complements our community 'curb appeal', there is always that out-of-town developer that will only do what is minimally required in order to access the retail market that our community offers.
With that in mind, we have begun the lengthy process of drafting, reviewing, and walking through the process of implementing these standards. We will take comments and input from residents and businesses, as well as those involved in the development process such as developers, bankers, engineers and architects. Everyone's input is important. I do not want to make rules that are so restrictive that developers move to other communities but at the same time Sylvania has a right to expect a certain level of quality so that our community maintains its appeal and property values.
For properties that have high grass, overgrown weeds and the like, our Zoning Department works diligently with home owners, renters, mortgage companies and real estate agents as the situation calls for, to help our residents keep their properties maintained and our neighborhoods inviting. The majority of the time, this is effective and we continue to monitor situations as appropriate.
Sometimes our efforts to work with property owners to resolve zoning compliance issues are not productive. In those cases, we have taken the legal steps available to us to remediate the situation, which may be as simple as mowing the lawn every few weeks (and billing the owner) to more drastic steps such as physical removal of a burned-out house from the property (after appropriate public hearing and notice). Our goal is to maintain the integrity of our neighborhoods while using township resources appropriately.
If you have concerns about the exterior maintenance of a home in your neighborhood, I would encourage you to contact me or our Zoning Department.
Zoning is not a passive activity; it should entail the active engagement of our zoning personnel with property owners and developers in Sylvania Township. In the past, the township Zoning Department was very passive in its enforcement efforts in Sylvania Township, only reacting to direct complaints from residents and at times failing to require that the specifics of our zoning resolution be met by proposed projects. This created inconsistency in enforcement because the majority of property owners voluntarily complied with our rules while a few did not, giving the impression that enforcement was based on who you were or who you knew.
After restructuring the Zoning Department by hiring an experienced, educated and trained Director of Planning and Zoning, we have moved the Zoning Department in the right direction to help guide and support quality growth, development and redevelopment in Sylvania Township.
I do not envision the new structure of our Zoning Department to impede development but instead it is intended to help address the issues which come up with continued development and redevelopment, such as access management, traffic, transitional zoning (commercial near residential), construction standards and others. We owe it to those who are invested in our community to maintain our neighborhoods and zoning districts so that commercial, residential and industrial areas can thrive, co-exist and not negatively impact each other.
Although development in the township has dropped in recent months due to the economy, we have added a full-time employee to the Zoning Department because we have a significant increase in activity in the Department. We have increased enforcement activities in an effort to make sure rules are applied fairly across the board. We also have the work on the Zoning Resolution, Last Use Plan and construction standards which needs adequate attention else it will languish for too long. I am hopeful that the improvements and changes we have made to the Zoning Department will help add to the quality of our township in the near and long-term future.
Sylvania Township Trustee