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Consultant presents fire/EMS options for trustees

HEBRON – Union Township Trustees have much to consider.

Monday night, they heard from their fire service consultant – William Kramer, of Kramer & Associates of Cincinnati. Trustees hired Kramer early this year after they learned that the Granville Township Fire Department would charge Union Township $50,000 in 2008 to provide fire and EMS service for the portion of the township north of the CSX railway.

The Hebron and Buckeye Lake fire departments serve the rest of the township. Until this year, the township’s most expensive annual contract with the previously private Granville Fire Department was $18,000. Trustees paid Kramer & Associates about $14,000 to research alternatives.

Kramer told trustees and a roomful of residents and members of local fire departments, including fire chiefs Jeff Hussey of Granville Township, Randy Weekly of Hebron, and Mark Huggins of Heath, that Union Township basically has four options:

Option one: Status quo – Continue to contract with Granville, Hebron, Buckeye Lake, and Licking Township for fire and EMS services.

Option Two: Form a joint fire district with Hebron and possibly (but not necessarily) Granville, Heath, and Buckeye Lake as well. A district, which would include a new station near the Blacks Road and Ohio 37 intersection, would provide excellent coverage service.

Option three: Contract with other fire departments, possibly Heath. Kramer said Heath would have a response time similar to Hebron’s.

Option four: Form an independent Union Township Fire Department. Kramer believes an independent fire department is a viable option for Union Township, although more tax revenue would be necessary.

Kramer said many townships have launched successful independent departments, which give them a sense of identity and are easy to control. He said if Union Township Trustees are only looking at providing the most efficient service, then the district is the best method. If they’re looking for control and identity, the independent department is the way to go.

“It would be a little tight, a little tough at first,” said Kramer of the independent department. Fire levies would have to be significantly increased. A station could be built on 13 acres of property near the intersection of Blacks Road and Ohio 37, where the trustees are considering building a satellite station anyway. An independent department would need four staff members, including its chief. Kramer said one vehicle and three people handle 95 percent of squad runs for any department. “The rest you ask for help,” he said.

Kramer estimated it would cost $500,000 per year to pay salaries and a total of $750,000 per year to maintain the station, not including start-up costs.

Hussey said Tuesday he believes Kramer’s estimate is too low. He said if the proposed fire station were to be operated with part-time employees and minimum staffing levels (to staff only one truck), Hussey believes the manpower cost would likely exceed $500,000. He said there are many additional costs required to build, equip and operate such a facility.

Hussey said $1 million is a “conservative estimate” to build and equip a suitable facility, another $500,000 to purchase two trucks, and an additional $750,000 in annual operating costs. “Based on my experience, I would highly recommend the use of at least some full-time staffing, which creates more consistent coverage and service,” he said. Hussey estimates the annual operating budget of a blend of part-time and full-time staffing would be closer to $1 million.

Hussey suggests a committee of township residents conduct a very thorough study of costs and service issues. “There are many qualified residents in the community who could conduct a detailed analysis of this situation,” he said. “I suspect that such a study would show that contracting for fire protection with Hebron and Granville would continue to be a good solution for Union Township well into the future.”

Hussey definitely prefers the “status quo” option. “We do firmly believe that we can provide the best emergency services to northern Union Township, even if a new facility is constructed and operated at Blacks Road and 37,” he said. When looking at the road system in this region, Hussey said the Granville Township Fire Department has similar or better access to this area, and takes the possibility for delays caused by rail traffic out of consideration. Additionally, he said, it is important to understand that the department provides these residents with a multi-million dollar fleet of apparatus, a staff of 50 personnel, and specialized resources, such as a tanker, heavy rescue truck, aerial ladder truck and two paramedic staffed EMS vehicles. The proposed Union Township facility, as he understands it, would likely have minimal staffing, one fire engine, and one EMS unit. “There is a significant difference in service between these two options,” said Hussey.

The current $50,000 contract with Union Township represents about three percent of the Granville Township department’s budget. While this is a significant amount of money, said Hussey, on a percentage basis the loss of this funding would not have a major budgetary impact on the Granville Township department. “As part of our budgeting, we typically hold some small reserves for unexpected expenditures,” he said, adding that the potential loss of this revenue would not likely cause any reduction in service, but would likely have to be addressed in the future.

Maintaining the status quo will cost more next year. Trustees are considering a Granville proposal for $75,000 for 2009 or accepting a two-year agreement, paying $65,000 in 2009 and $85,000 in 2010. “We have studied fire contract pricing extensively, and we are still of the opinion that our contract is somewhat under priced,” said Hussey of the current $50,000 contract.

Union Township’s contract with Hebron will likely cost $584,000 for 2009. Weekly commented Wednesday that he believes people don’t generally care where the fire truck comes from, they just want it to arrive when they need it. He disagrees with the idea of creating an independent fire department solely for identity’s sake. Weekly added that a fire district between Union Township and Hebron has been mentioned since the 1970’s, but has yet to happen.

Additionally, Union Township contracts with the Buckeye Lake Fire Department for $6,000 per year and pays the Licking Township Fire Company $350 per squad run, not to exceed $3,500 per year, according to information Buckeye Lake Council Clerk Tim Matheny provided.

Slater was clear that there will be much more discussion before the trustees reach a decision. Although “service-wise,” the fire district is the best option, Slater said he wasn’t sure how well the departments would receive the idea. “We operate as a district now, it’s just not formal,” he said.

Justice said northern Union Township residents tell him they’re happy with Granville’s service, although Trustee Jessie Ours said in reference to the price of the contract, “We don’t have to contract with Granville. They need us; we could cover it.”

Slater said they will continue to discuss the issues in future meetings.

In a related issue, Weekly presented the trustees with a report showing a separation of EMS billing revenue from the township areas, which the trustees said they have asked for since Hebron began collecting EMS billing revenue in July 2007. Weekly said Hebron firefighter Chris Clancy made the calculations.

Justice appreciated Clancy and Weekly’s work, but was still angry with Med 3000, a Pittsburgh based medical administration company that manages Hebron’s EMS billing, for not doing it itself like the company promised. “I am intensely upset with Med 3000,” he said. “They promised (the information), and I want it.” Justice said he appreciated Clancy’s figures and looks forward to him regularly providing them, but it’s a matter of principle with Med 3000, who promised the information and then “dropped the ball.”

Slater said previously that while the trustees aren’t currently expecting a slice of the EMS billing revenue, they want to have “some idea” of how much money was generated from township runs in case there’s a budget crunch and the township needs to fall back on that revenue.

Weekly said EMS billing has generated $53,336.02 from township squad runs since July 2007.

Trustees may discuss the township’s contract with the Hebron Fire Department and Kramer’s report during its Dec. 1 meeting, 7 p.m. at the township hall in Hebron.

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