Fire levy won’t make the fall ballot

LISBON – East Liverpool’s fire levy was denied a spot on the Nov. 5 election ballot because city officials missed the filing deadline by one day.

The Columbiana County Board of Elections voted at Friday’s meeting to reject the levy resolution after it was filed on Aug. 8 – the day after the filing deadline for placing issues on the November ballot.

“We regret that it had to be this way and wish they would have gotten it to us on time,” board member James Beardsley told East Liverpool Fire Chief Bill Jones, who attended the meeting.

The good news is collection of the 8-mill levy – which accounts for about two-thirds of the fire department’s funding – will continue until 2015 because tax collections are always one year behind. This means East Liverpool has at least two attempts to get the levy renewed next year before it actually expires.

Elections Board Director Adam Booth reported East Liverpool officials discovered the levy resolution had not been filed after seeing it had been omitted from Aug. 8 newspaper stories about upcoming issues on the Nov. 6 ballot. Councilwoman Sherrie Curtis called that day to ask why it was missing from the story and was told by Booth the resolution had never been filed.

Later on Aug. 8, City Council Clerk Patrick Scafide delivered the resolution to the elections board, and the county prosecutor’s office was asked to provide some guidance. Assistant Prosecutor Tad Herold supplied the board with a two-page opinion in which he referred to a 2004 Ohio 10th District Court of Appeal ruling that Booth originally believed to be a state supreme court decision.

In that case, the court decided in favor of a Franklin County school district that had missed a levy filing deadline by one day, saying it did not create a burden on the elections board since it had yet to prepare the ballots or impact the voters ability to become educated about the issue before the election.

In making its decision, the appeals court said the loss of the levy would have resulted in the immediate loss of operating revenue, forcing school layoffs and impacting the quality of education.

Booth said there were several key distinctions between this case and what they faced. First, the court decision involved the section of law applying to school ballot issues and not the law setting deadlines for other levies. Secondly, East Liverpool has at least two more opportunities to get its levy renewed before the revenue would go away. Lastly, the board was not required to abide by that decision since the county is in the 7th Appellate District.

The board said the state law on non-school issues was unambiguous in setting a firm deadline for them to follow. “If we make an exception to the Ohio Revised Code we’re setting a precedent,” said board member Larry Bowersock. “The law is pretty clear.”

Beardsley was concerned about other boards and candidates asking for the same consideration in the future. “Where do we draw the line?” he said. “This may come up (someday) when we’re gone.”

Board President Patty Colian was concerned about the potential effect their decision would have on the fire department. “The only thing I worry about is layoffs. I’d hate to see anyone lose their job,” she said.

Booth reminded her the city still has all of 2014 to get the levy renewed before collections would cease, and Bowersock said that should not be a consideration anyway.

“Our duty as a board is to go by the Ohio Revised Code,” Bowersock said.

Following the 3-0 vote (board member David Johnson was absent), Chief Jones had no hard feelings. “You’re just doing what’s right by the law,” he told the board, adding city officials responsible for delivering the paperwork were aware of the filing deadline.

“Luckily, we have two more times,” he said. “Hopefully, they (voters) realize it wasn’t the fire department’s fault.”

Council Clerk Scafide has said it is his responsibility for filing the paperwork with the elections board.