NORTH ROYALTON – The city’s EMS levy will likely be put back on the November ballot after failing at the polls last fall.
Issue 73 narrowly failed by just 142 votes with 7,435 votes against, 50.5 percent, to 7,293 for, 49.5 percent. An election breakdown showed it failed in Wards 1, 2 and 6.
The levy, on the books since 1993, had never been put before the voters for an increase until last year. But mounting costs, a growing population and cuts in state aid, officials said, led to the ballot issue back in November.
City officials are expected to give it another go this fall.
This 1.7-mills levy generates $793,000 today, not much more than what it did in the late ‘90s when the population was 23,200 and the EMS call volume was 1,200 calls annually. Today, the population has grown to 30,300 with a call volume of nearly 3,200.
“And this is without all the new construction that’s starting too,” Fire Chief Bob Chegan told council June 20 during a committee meeting.
To compound the issue, state aid to the city has been reduced by about $1.2 million annually the past several years.
H.B. 920 further complicates the matter because it does not allow tax levies to generate more than was originally generated when the levy was first passed. So as property values increase and the population grows, this bill reduces the amount of mills homeowners pay, so they are not paying more than an original levy was voted in to collect. Residents are actually paying less officials say.
The fire department’s capabilities and costs have increased, the population has increased, however the city still collects the same amount from the levy, forcing it, officials have said, to subsidize EMS service from the general fund, about $1.2 million annually. Close to $3 million total is subsidized from the general fund for all fire-related expenses.
To address the issue, the administration hopes to remove the old 1.7 mills from the books, which costs the owner of a $200,000 home approximately $5 per month, and replace it with a new 1.7 mill that at today’s costs would increase that monthly cost by almost $5, for a total of about $10. This would generate an additional $630,000 annually, a total of $1.4 million, for the department.
The city would share in the responsibility, still subsidizing around $1 million each year. The current levy was last renewed in 2013. The new levy would be a five-year levy beginning in 2018.
Chegan has said in today’s dollars, the city is only collecting about half of the original 1.7 mills.
“Our needs go up, responses go up and day-to-day operation. The need is there. The need is well justified,” he said.
Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris said it’s necessary to continue to provide and maintain the excellent EMS service Royalton has.
“We are seeking to restore this levy to its intended strength. Our community has grown since the early ‘90s when this levy was enacted. We are now faced with a state government which is seemingly hostile to local funding, more state cuts are on the way in addition to the well over a million dollars the state government has taken from cities from the lake to the river,” he said. “Restoring this levy to its intended level is a necessary evil.”
Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw said the levy has his backing and that he knows all too well anyone can find themselves in need of EMS services.
“It’s a service you don’t want to have to use but unfortunately if you do, you want the best. We’re not asking for any more than we need,” he said.
Council will vote in July to formally place the levy back on the ballot in November.