Sylvania Township - Fire Department Update

Greetings!

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 www.sylvaniatownship.com.

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 and #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.
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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.
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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.

Sincerely,

DeeDee Liedel
Sylvania Township Trustee

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