Fostoria levy linked to fiscal emergency

FOSTORIA — Voters are to decide on a five-year, 6-mill property tax levy next month that could shape the future of the city’s safety services.

The levy is part of a financial recovery plan created by a special committee formed by the city and State Auditor’s office after the city was placed in fiscal emergency by the state.

City council members voted to put the levy, which would raise about $3.5 million over five years, on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The goal of the recovery plan is to have a three-month carryover in the city’s coffers.

According to information from the state auditor’s office, the tax increase would create a projected carryover of $1,946,297 after five years. The city must have a three-month carryover, about $1.8 million, after five years to restore its fiscal health.

Mayor Eric Keckler said the proposal would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $210 in additional property taxes annually.

Jonathon Puffenberger chairs the Committee for Fostoria’s Future, a campaign for the levy.

He stressed the importance of approving the levy to maintain adequate staffing levels for the police and fire departments.

Five of the city’s seven council members endorsed the levy earlier this month.

Councilman Brian Shaver said voting for the levy is a vote of confidence and support for the city’s police and fire departments.

Council members Greg Cassidy, Paula Dillon, Thomas Lake and Greg Flores also endorsed the levy.

If the levy fails, the police and fire departments could face several layoffs.

Fostoria Police Department Chief Keith Loreno said this would be a “nightmare” scenario in which crime, fire and casualty rates likely would increase.

He said without the levy, services would be reduced and it is likely that response times would increase.

Loreno said he is not trying to use fear tactics, but is trying to inform voters.

The department responds to about 12,600 calls annually, and is on pace to respond to more this year, but Loreno said the department struggles to staff three officers on the road per shift.

Loreno also said he fears for the safety of his officers.

“The biggest fear is waiting for something (bad) to happen,” he said. “I do not want the chief knocking on the family’s door and telling their family someone is seriously injured or worse. You can’t believe what it takes out of the chief or for the families. If a spouse or family know their dad is going to work as a police officer, the odds are stacked against them because they don’t have the staffing. Turn on the TV, it’s the new normal. We’ve had police officer-involved shootings around us.”

The city received a $404,000 federal grant last month to help with fire department staffing, but many council members believe that is not enough.

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant will help pay for three new firefighters.

Councilman Doug Pahl said the grant, which must be used for new hires, will cover 75 percent of the firefighters’ pay for the first two years and 25 percent for the final year.

Shaver said the grant is helpful, but voters need to approve the levy.

“We need to reiterate that it’s still imperative that we pass this levy and that we still need to continue to work on fiscal recovery,” he said.

Dillon said the levy is important but also noted the city has made significant cuts to its budget.

The recovery plan includes about $3.2 million in General Fund budget cuts from 2018-21.

Lake said if voters reject the levy, they can expect delayed service, which could be “disastrous.”

He said insurance costs likely will increase.

“We’re going to pay somewhere,” he said.

Puffenberger hopes voters recognize the importance of the initiative.

“One of the issues we keep running into, the fire department does EMS calls. Well, they’ve only got three guys, so while they’re out, if there’s another medical emergency, they have to call someone in for overtime. There’s a delay there,” he said. “We’re not doing well as a city. Sometimes you have to do things that aren’t pleasant, that aren’t ideal.