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Mayor: Communication with fire department to improve

BUCKEYE LAKE – Buckeye Lake Mayor Rick Baker said he and other village officials are working to improve communications with the Buckeye Lake Fire Department following an in-depth study by The Beacon revealing large gaps in the department’s staffing schedule that affected response times.

“There’s been a problem between the administration and the fire department’s communication,” Baker said Tuesday. He said he wasn’t aware that three people recently quit the department until an Aug. 24 meeting where he and other village officials spoke with Buckeye Lake Fire Chief Pete Leindecker about the issue. Baker said people unexpectedly leaving caused voids in the schedule. He said new people have been hired and are currently going through background checks. Baker said he’s also waiting on recordings from the Licking County 911 Center so he can verify the time it took for Buckeye Lake to respond to calls for himself. “Of course, I’m concerned about response time,” he said. “I want people to be safe.”

Baker said he plans to meet with Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason to discuss Hebron’s perspective as mutual aid. He said he, village council member Clay Carroll, and others plan to meet with the fire department to discuss scheduling and response times, and to gain a better understanding of how things work at the fire department. Also, Baker said he would begin including himself during interviews of new fire department personnel, as he currently does with police department personnel.

Baker said whether or not Leindecker receives any sort of reprimand or disciplinary action is a private personnel matter that he wouldn’t agree to discuss publicly.

“I am in agreement with the mayor and many other council members that specific personnel issues are private. Therefore, I am not going to discuss anything that violates employee privacy,” said council president Charlene Hayden. “We have had some gaps in the schedule due to staff reduction for one reason or another during the month of May and since that time. We lose many good people because they are able to find comparable jobs that pay more.” She said interviews for new hires began immediately after the vacancies occurred.

“At the meeting on Friday evening, we concluded we needed to have better communication with the fire department and we plan to do that by going to the fire house to talk with people who are on staff or who volunteer so we get to know them better and so we understand more about what they do and how the fire depart- ment operates,” said Hayden. “Most people who are elected are trying to make a living in some other line of work. That alone puts a strain on communication time and time to (oversee) daily operations. I think all of us are doing the best we can with the time we have available.”

Hayden said she hopes village administration can work more closely with the fire department in supporting its staffing and scheduling issues by becoming more knowledgeable about the fire department overall. “The bottom line is, the mayor and all of council have a concern for the safety of this village,” she said. “It is very upsetting to me when a few people imply that we have no concern. Can we improve our efforts? Certainly!”

Monday night, several people were upset council didn’t discuss the fire department issue during its regular meeting. Former council member Peggy Wells said she was upset that Baker still considered removing derelict homes from the village his first priority. She said the priority should be addressing the fire department issues. “What the hell do we do,” she said, if someone has a heart attack or needs an immediate EMS response. “I’m so angry I could cry,” she said.

Resident John Sheets said many residents are concerned about their safety as far as the fire department is concerned. He said fire department personnel are being threatening toward the residents. “Someone needs to roll their sleeves up and get things under control,” said Sheets.

In other village news:

• Baker was clear that the village is not trying to run the Lake Drive Thru out of business. “We’re trying to make sure we’re not putting taxpayer money into it,” he said. The village owns the drive thru building as well as the building housing Lee’s Fried Chicken, and those businesses pay rent to the village. The drive thru pays $991 per month and Lee’s pays $500 per month. Baker said the village is revisiting the contract for the Lake Drive Thru, which hasn’t been updated since 2009. The village’s insurance company paid a little over $13,000 to repair the drive thru’s roof.

Village Fiscal Officer Vince Popo said he’s concerned such repairs to the village’s properties may cause its insurance rates to rise, and he said according to the lease the drive thru’s tenant is responsible for having full insurance coverage on the building. The village may raise the rent for the drive thru.

“The village really doesn’t want to be a landlord,” said Baker, but he reiterated that no one is trying to shut down the drive thru. He’s just very concerned that the village isn’t forced to use taxpayer money to maintain its properties. “We’re just revisiting the contract; that’s all it is,” he said, adding that it’s “crazy” that the village would want to destroy businesses.

“All I want is for the village properties to be in good repair and for (the tenants) to pay their fair share of expenses,” said Popo.

Lake Drive Thru owner/operator Andrew Haddad believes he’s doing just that, and raising rent in addition to requiring him to pay for full insurance may be enough to force him to relocate. “There’s been a few months where I pay the lease before I pay myself,” he said. Haddad said the roof leaked for quite a while before it finally degraded to the point where it needed major work. He said village personnel were aware of the leak. “There was no roof any more. This was dire straits,” said Haddad. He said the village owns the building outright and there’s no mortgage. “It’s hard for me to imagine the $12,000 a year I pay doesn’t cover expenses.” Haddad said he’s currently negotiating in good terms with the village and has made some suggestions for increased rent. He just hopes any increase isn’t more than he can handle financially. “I like the community and I want to stay here,” he said. “The community has been above and beyond in their support. People want the drive thru to stay in business.”

• Residents Barry Herron and Kitty Zwissler are vying for former council member Patrick Brighton’s open council seat. Baker defeated Herron in the 2009 mayoral election. “I’m interested in helping with the budgetary procedures,” said Herron to council, adding that he’s also interested in ridding the village of derelict homes.

“I’ve been involved with (the council and village) on all sorts of projects,” said Zwissler. She said she’d like to help the village control its expenses.

A new council member will likely be announced during council’s Sept. 10 meeting.

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