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Published: Friday, 12/15/2006

Firefighters want voters to set level of services

BLADE STAFF
Township Trustee Carol Contrada, right, listens to a resident's question at the meeting. Township Trustee Carol Contrada, right, listens to a resident's question at the meeting.
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During a town hall meeting last night, the message from Sylvania Township firefighters was clear: Township trustees should let voters decide what level of fire/rescue services they are willing to support.

However, firefighters raised the question of whether voters, who rejected two fire levy requests last year, would approve a millage issue in 2007.

During the meeting at an American Legion post, firefighters presented information about the department's staffing levels; existing levies, and possible options to address a projected deficit in the department's 2007 budget.

Township trustees are trying to reach a compromise plan that would keep all four fire stations open. The stations serve all of the township as well as the city of Sylvania. An early proposal that called for the closing of the fire station in downtown Sylvania was met by strong opposition from residents, including elected officials in the city.

Trustees are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the township hall to discuss the budget and possibly vote on how to address the deficit.

Jeff Bennett, a firefighter who made a 30-minute presentation to about 100 people at the meeting, said firefighters are aiming to educate the public about the department because they believe that residents should have accurate information.

When resident Dan Twiss asked whether the trustees could be forced to put a levy on the ballot, Trustee Carol Contrada, who served on a panel that answered questions from the audience, said she didn't know what he meant by force.

But she said the plan is for trustees to vote on the fire department issue Tuesday, and that vote will indicate the likelihood of whether a levy will be on the ballot. Residents, she added, do have the option of a referendum.

During the presentation last night, Mr. Bennett noted how important it is for firefighters to arrive as quickly as possible to the scene of a fire or other emergency situation. According to the firefighters, the fire department does not meet national standards for staffing and the number of personnel responding on each truck.

The department's operating budget is projected at $6.2 million in 2007, with a $1.4 million deficit under the township's new accounting method.

Under the previous method, the township would face an estimated deficit of $600,000, according to the firefighters.

When outlining how the department ended up in the current situation, the firefighters noted "failure over numerous years to properly fund the fire department to meet the needs of the community."

Current fire levies, totaling 7.4 mills, generate $4.85 million annually. Last year, two levies for the fire department were defeated soundly.

Trustees, who are reviewing budget-related options that include laying off firefighters, have asked firefighters to consider contract changes that would reduce operating costs.

But firefighters contend concessions already have been made by the union "to ease the burden on the township until a solution could be discovered."

Concessions included reducing the minimum daily staffing from 16 to 15; agreeing to a wage freeze for two years, and increasing the monthly insurance contribution. Requested contract changes include reducing daily staffing levels and changing the work schedule to reduce staffing at night.



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