December 22, 2014

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Sheffield Lake weighs trying special election for tax levy

Sheffield Lake firefighters stand outside a home after a fire on Oct. 23. The city's full-time Fire Department will be disbanded after voters rejected a levy. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Sheffield Lake firefighters stand outside a home after a fire on Oct. 23. The city’s full-time Fire Department could be cut if the city doesn’t find additional funding. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

SHEFFIELD LAKE — A decision whether to hold a special election to try to pass a 0.5 percent income tax increase may come in January.

Mayor Dennis Bring said after Tuesday’s City Council meeting that he wants to evaluate whether there is enough support for the levy to justify spending about $8,000 for a special election. About 100 people packed Council chambers for the meeting.

Council President Richard Rosso, a Council member since 2001, said it was the most residents he’d seen at a meeting. Some residents were there to speak about a residential parking ban, but many spoke about the levy that was defeated by a 781-765 margin in November, according to official results from the Lorain County Board of Elections.

The levy, which would have increased the city income tax to 2 percent, would’ve raised $500,000 annually. A worker earning $50,000 annually would’ve had to pay an additional $250 per year had it passed.

The city has lost about $2.5 million in state aid to local governments since 2009 — about $500,000 annually. Hiring and pay freezes have been in effect since 2009, and 15 positions were eliminated through attrition since 2009.

Most of the levy money would have paid for firefighters and police as well as other city workers’ salaries and for city equipment. Bring has said the failure may mean having to eliminate the Fire Department and six police dispatchers.

Neighboring fire departments would respond to fires if the department was eliminated and the city would employ LifeCare Ambulance for medical calls. Lorain County dispatchers would dispatch police.

Bring said Tuesday he had spoken with the heads of the fire and police unions since the defeat, but no decision had been made. The Fire Department’s contract runs through Dec. 31, 2014, according to Chief Tim Card.

Several residents asked for a special election. Resident Ronnie Chandler said he didn’t know about the levy or he would’ve voted for it. Chandler said firefighters have saved him from choking, saved his 5-year-old son’s life and extinguished a fire at his grandmother’s house before it was destroyed. Chandler said he’s willing to pay more taxes because Sheffield Lake needs a Fire Department.

“I’d be dead without them. My son would be dead without them,” he said.

Bring said even if the levy passed, the city would still need to borrow to help replace aging equipment. Bring said no decisions on cuts have been made, and he is trying to work with the police and fire unions.

“I’m not just going to arbitrarily cut everything even though I said a lot of that stuff,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.