Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sylvania Township Update - Fiscal Restraint in Action

With the election less than a week away, I wanted to touch on one final topic regarding the improvements and changes that we have made at Sylvania Township - fiscal accountability.

Hanley & Liedel Pledge: No New Taxes!

As a community and country, we are experiencing an economic downturn that we have not seen in more than a generation. Families and businesses are having to make do with less - business revenue and personal income are down, and we have less discretionary money to spend. Meanwhile, the price of everyday items such as gas, groceries, utilities and the like are at least holding steady if not increasing.

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.)

Fiscal Restraint In Action

Prior to my election, one of my concerns with Sylvania Township was the drastic increase in spending, including spending increases four times the rate of inflation. I campaigned on fiscal restraint and accountability and now I want to show the results of what can be done fiscally, while maintaining quality services in Sylvania Township.

(Note: the following numbers exclude any capital transactions especially those related to the fire department's voter-approved capital plan).

Fire Fund: 11.5% Increase

Fire Fund: Since 2006, spending in the fire department has increased 11.50% compared to a Consumer Price Index increase of 10.24% (from December 2005 to December 2008; I'm using December because that is realistically when we finalize our budget and what we expect to spend for the following year). The 11.50% increase includes the addition of 5 new firefighters as per the March 2008 Levy Proposal approved by voters. That means we will increase manpower without going significantly outside of inflation.

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.

Police Fund: 12% Increase

Police Fund: Spending increased 11.85% in the police department compared to an inflation rate of 10.24%. The one-and-one-half percentage difference is relatively negligible, and amounts to less than $100,000 of a $6.7 million annual budget. Service has remained constant, training has increased drastically, and the 2005 Police Levy which was originally projected to last only until 2009, is now projected to last until 2013. The extension of the 2005 levy is in addition to the trustees' taking a tax holiday on an older police levy, saving township property owners $2.7 million.

Road & Bridge Fund: 33% Increase

Road & Bridge Fund: Spending on roads and our infrastructure has increased dramatically in the last four years and this is a good thing for our community. The Road and Bridge funds have seen a 33.20% increase in spending since 2006. Initially I'm sure this seems contrary to my position of fiscal discipline. But as I mentioned in prior discussions, we have returned the focus of the Road Department to our infrastructure in order to maintain quality roads and drainage systems. For example, in 2003 and 2004 the Township only repaved 1 mile of road. We need to resurface 6-7 miles a year in order to stay on a 20 year maintenance schedule (the typical life-span of residential roads). We have resurfaced over 30 miles of road since 2006.

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.

General Fund: 23% Increase

General Fund: The General Fund provides funding for any township services not covered by fire, police and roads such as our accounting department and zoning. Spending in the General Fund has increased almost 23%. (For my calculations, I did not consider loans to the Fire Department 'spending' from the general fund, as that would be double-counting money that was spent by the Fire Department). The Trustees approved this spending increase for several reasons.

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.

Increased Reserves Provide Future Service Stability

Although spending has increased in the General Fund, we have been able to substantially build the township's cash reserves, from $675,000 to over $7.0 million. Some of this money is the result of estate tax receipts received by the township of $4.4 million during my term as trustee. But it is interesting to note that in the five years prior to my term, the Township had received $4.2 million in estate tax receipts - and the cash reserves were 1/6 of that. It is not so much that we received substantial estate taxes, but that we didn't spend them.

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.

Result: Rate of Inflation + Levy

In total, Sylvania Township's budget has increased about 16% (excluding capital items) over the last 4 years during a time when inflation increased just over 10%. This 6% difference equates to a total spending increase in excess of inflation of $1.2 million from 2006 to 2009, or basically the operational portion of the Fire Levy that was passed in March 2008. Maintaining government spending to the rate of inflation plus voter-approved levies is, in my opinion, the proper way to run government and defines fiscal restraint.

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.
There are six days left before the November 3rd election, and it is important to get my message out to residents of Sylvania, so that we can remain a Quality Community You Can Afford to Live In.


DeeDee Liedel
Sylvania Township Trustee

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Location for Fire Station #2

Ever since the barrier dividing Central Avenue was put up by ODOT years ago, concerns have been voiced regarding the impact on fire and EMS response from Station #2 on Central near 475. These concerns were seriously considered when the Township Trustees began looking for new property to re-locate Fire Station #2. After an exhaustive search, our diligence has finally paid off.

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

Fire Department Update

This installment of my Township Update will focus on the Fire Department, which has been extremely busy the last 18 months fulfilling the promises of the 2008 1.25 Mill Fire Levy. But first, a brief announcement about the Police Department:

Tax Holiday Extended in Police Department

As we begin the 2010 budget process, the Sylvania Township Trustees unanimously voted to extend the tax holiday that I first introduced in 2007. In total, this tax holiday will save Sylvania Township taxpayers $1,050,000 in 2010 and approximately $2,700,000 over three years.

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.

Fire/EMS Response Time: Best in County

I am proud to say that the Sylvania Township Fire Department has the best response time in Lucas County, with an average of approximately 4½ minutes. This response time is a testament to the dedication and training of our firefighters as well as the commitment of Sylvania taxpayers to the quality of our community. Response times natural fluctuate based on numerous factors, but we have consistently maintained average response times of 4:00 to 4:30 for the last several years. We meet the national standards set by the NFPA with 90% of our calls being answered in under 4 minutes.

Brief Fire Department History

The last few years have not been easy for the Fire Department, starting back in 2005 when former trustees tried to increase the fire tax by over 200% while the department was consistently spending more than its revenue. I was part of C.A.T., Citizens for Accountable Taxation, which lead the fight against that huge tax increase, believing that we can maintain quality services without exorbitant tax increases. Following that defeat, Pam Hanley and I were elected at Trustees and we began the work of doing just that.

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.

Station #4: Renovations Complete - Open House Scheduled

Renovations to Station #4 are complete and were brought in at 98% of budget. The renovations totaled approximately $822,000. Updates include moving the fire administration into new offices from their 70+ year old headquarters at Station #1. There is now new office space, meeting and training rooms and storage facilities at Station #4, as well as new facilities for the firefighters stationed there including new dorm, kitchen/day and workout rooms.

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.

Station #3: Construction Contract Awarded

We are moving closer to construction of Station #3 at Whiteford near Monroe. This week, after careful consideration of bid requirements and qualifications of over 40 bids from 30 different companies, we awarded the contract to Harp Contractors, Inc. of Northwood, Ohio. This was a combination bid, meaning Harp will be responsible and perform all phases of construction, including general, plumbing, HVAC, electrical, and fire protection.

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

Additional 'Green' Initiatives

When we began the process of building new fire stations, we had our architect/engineers include 'green' design elements in all four stations, including items such as rain gardens; minimized paving and building footprint; building material with recycled material content; natural lighting requirements; high efficiency HVAC units; and high efficiency lighting and occupancy sensors.

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.

Still to Come - Stations #1 & #2

We are still working on securing new locations for Stations #1 and #2, including working with City of Sylvania officials for the location of Station #1. We could certainly move forward and build where the fire stations are currently located, but there are advantages to moving the stations even if just slightly within the territories each station services. We will move forward as soon as we are able to, but with the favorable bid/construction climate of present, I am not concerned that the process has been extended slightly while we review all location options available to us.

Firefighter Staffing Update

With the passage of the 2008 Fire Levy, Sylvania Township committed to increasing our firefighter staffing level by five to 57. Several months ago, we authorized Fire Chief Welsh to hire four new firefighters, two to fill recent retirements and two to begin to fulfill our commitment to increasing staffing. After departmental training, those four Firefighter/Paramedics are now working full-time.

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.

Other Items To Note

Those are the big items that are very visible to the Sylvania Community when it comes to the fire department. But there are a lot of smaller items that have added up to improve the service and create a more effective and efficient fire department, including:

• 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.
I know this has been a long update, but that just goes to the point that we have truly accomplished a lot in the Fire Department in the last few years while maintaining reasonable budget restraints.

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.


DeeDee Liedel
Sylvania Township Trustee

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Zoning Department Improvements

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.

Planning For Our Future

For decades, Sylvania Township has been a center for immense growth and development. This growth has helped to fund our schools, the Senior Center, our parks and recreation as well as basic township services. At the same time, some of that growth has evolved based on an outdated strategic plan. Solid, up-to-date land use plans will improve the quality of our community while preserving our property values. For a growing community, a land use plan should be reviewed and updated every 3-5 years.

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.

Setting Standards for Quality

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.

Working With Homeowners

Today, as a community, we are seeing an economy that we have not experienced in more than a generation. Clearly, we have families struggling with the cost of living in Sylvania. For some properties, this struggle becomes evident with a less-than-desired level of property maintenance. This is disconcerting to the property owners and may be unsettling to neighbors who are concerned about the neighborhood 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

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.

Permits Down; Department Activity Up

As was reported to the trustees at our recent board meeting, building permit activity is down in the township, about 20% from last year with the value of new permits also decreasing, as more people are moving to remodel and add on to their current home as opposed to building new.

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.
The primary goal of zoning is to preserve the value of your property whether that is your home, your business or your investment property. With the slump in the commercial and residential housing market, it is more important than ever that our Zoning Resolution is being complied with; that we implement design and landscaping standards so that quality construction is brought to our community; and that we work with homeowners who are facing difficulties.

DeeDee Liedel
Sylvania Township Trustee