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Twp. kicks in $425K from reserves for fire station addition

April 16, 2014 - Thanks to a series of money-moving motions approved by the Oxford Township Board last week, residents won't be asked to increase their tax burden in order to add living space to Oxford Fire Station #1.

Township officials voted 5-2 to transfer $425,000 from their general fund reserves (i.e. fund balance) to the fire department for the construction project.

"I think it's a great idea," said Supervisor Bill Dunn. "Our fund balance is probably a little higher than it should be."

"It's the best way to go, I think, for everybody – for the taxpayers, for us, for the township," said Fire Chief Pete Scholz. "It shows good faith on the township's part."

Township officials also voted 6-1 to transfer $340,000 and $85,000 from fire department's fund balances for the station addition, making a grand total of $850,000 available for the project.

The fire department is looking to build an addition of approximately 4,400 square feet that would provide firefighters with sleeping quarters, male and female locker rooms, a kitchen, dining area, day room, a captain's office and an exercise room.

The square footage could change depending on whether or not the addition includes a basement, according to Scholz.

"The intent is to have a basement," he said, but cost will be the determining factor.

Right now, firefighters sleep in a 10-foot-by-10-foot converted office space and their kitchen/dayroom consists of two converted storage closets.

The original design for Station #1 included sleeping and eating quarters for fire personnel, but those plans were scrapped due to budgetary issues during construction.

"It's something that needed to be done a long time ago," said Trustee Sue Bellairs.

Thanks to these transfers of reserve monies, the property tax the fire department is requesting on the November ballot was reduced by township officials from 3.9 to 3.5 mills.

The department is requesting a single 3.5-mill tax that would consist of a 2.5-mill renewal of its current fire/medical operations millages, which expire with the December 2014 tax collection, plus a 1-mill increase to hire two full-time firefighters/paramedics along with one 12-hour part-time staffer.

The department had originally requested an additional 0.4-mill be added to the request in order to fund construction of the station addition and pay for the $220,000 refurbishment of two 18-year-old fire trucks.

According to Scholz, the department will save money from within its budget over the next two years to pay for the refurbishments rather than seek more from the taxpayers.

Having a sizeable fund balance is a "good thing," in Dunn's opinion, but he said it's also a "good thing" to give the fire department some of the township's extra money, so it doesn't have to ask residents to pay more.

"To sit on that money, I think it's wrong," he said.

Based on projections provided by the supervisor's office, the township had a fund balance of approximately $1.3 million following the December 2013 board-approved transfers of $985,000 for the upcoming township hall expansion and $385,000 for new safety paths.

The transfer to the fire department leaves the township with a fund balance exceeding $900,000, but the township expects to increase its reserves by an additional $317,000 at the end of the 2014 fiscal year.

Treasurer Joe Ferrari disagreed with transferring township reserves to the fire department. "I support the fire department, but I don't feel the general fund should be giving a large portion of money (to a department that is already funded by separate, voter-approved millage)," he said.

As a citizen, Ferrari noted he would rather have the opportunity to vote on fire funding issues via the November ballot.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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