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Two-year fire contract worked out

LISBON –Village council appears to have worked out differences with the trustees from Center and Elkrun townships over a new two-year fire contract.

Council’s safety committee members met this week with township trustees and village fire department officials to go over the proposed 2020-21 contract for providing fire coverage to Center and Elkrun townships.

The contract came up for renewal at council’s Dec. 17 meeting but action was deferred because the townships were surprised by some of the changes made by village Solicitor Alec Beech. At the top of the list was removal of language added in the 2017-19 contract giving the townships a vote in choosing future chiefs. Beech pointed out the chief and firefighters are village employees, and as such the decision is the sole responsibility of council.

The revised language gives the townships the authority to “participate” with Lisbon’s mayor in evaluating the fire chief and department officers.

Also eliminated was wording inserted in the old contract requiring fire department funding requests be approved by the townships and the village alike. Again, this was stricken by Beech for the same reason, and in its place is wording giving all parties the right to attend meetings scheduled to discuss fire department activities.

The revised contract also included some wording changes sought by the townships clarifying ownership of vehicles and cost-sharing responsibility, and a section requiring equipment and vehicles be rotated when responding to mutual aid calls.

“That was all of the stuff you requested,” Councilman Jerry Cox told Center Township trustees Ken Schreffler and Greg Shive and Elkrun Township trustees Kurt Seachrist, Randy Perrino and Andy Sweeney, who attended the meeting.

Shive said they know the village has sole authority under the law to appoint the chief, but they just want to have a seat at the table when those discussions are held.

“Once the fire chief is in there he’s kind of in there for life … All we want is to have some input,” he said.

Mayor Peter Wilson said he had no problem with the trustees being involved in evaluating the chief when it is time to reappoint him or choose a new one. He also wants to begin evaluating the chief yearly, and Cox agreed that is a good idea, as did Councilman Ryan Berg, who was also in attendance.

Chief Paul Gresh Jr. was not at the meeting because of work, but assistant chiefs Gilbert Flory and Kurt Gresh were present along with and firefighter Adam Little.

The contract is expected to presented to council for approval at its Jan. 28 meeting.

Cox moved on to other issues, such as completion of policies and procedures for council to approve. The policies for personnel was completed last summer, but the procedures component has not, and he asked what was the holdup. Flory said it will be ready for review at the next safety committee meeting.

Cox then asked why a piece of equipment purchased several months ago for one of the fire trucks was still sitting in a box in the garage. Fire officials said it would be on the truck the next day.

Cox also asked what became of the donated trailer that is to be converted for use in responding to grain silo emergencies, noting the decision was made nearly a year ago to use the trailer for that purpose. Officials said they believe the trailer is at the home of a firefighter who is to do the conversion work.

Kurt Gresh asked about the possibility of raising the hourly rates for the assistant chiefs, captains and lieutenants. He said minimum wage has been raised over the years to where there is now not much difference in pay between rank-and-file firefighters and the officers.

Center Township’s Shive spoke up. “We’re at the limit. We don’t have the money to pay now,” he said.

Cox will look into whether a small raise was possible.

Little then asked why do Lisbon firefighters get paid for responding to calls when many of the other small departments around receive no compensation. Schreffler said his research shows the practice dates back to at least the 1950s.

Village Fiscal Officer Tracey Wonner said going to a volunteer department would go a long way to resolving the fire department’s funding issues since paying firefighters and into the Public Employees Retirement System is their biggest year-to-year expense.

“It sure would put more into your operating budget if you didn’t have to pay wages,” she said.

Fire officials said it was hard enough to get members with the little they do pay, and Shive said he understands. “I wouldn’t do what they do without getting paid,” he said.

Schreffler suggested one way to lower cost is to explore billing for some non-emergency calls. About half the calls are for false alarms at businesses and government buildings due to malfunctioning fire alarms. The department also responds to a considerable number of requests for lift assists or to remove fallen trees from roadways following a storm.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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