Thursday, Jul 28, 2016
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Money delay stalls Sylvania Township fire program

Three laid-off firefighters have been recalled, but plans to further expand the Sylvania Township Fire Department are on hold until collection of a new levy begins in January.

The department is currently employing 52 full-time staff and abiding by a 14-person daily minimum staffing requirement. Once the township begins drawing on the 1.25-mill levy voters approved in March, Fire Chief Frederick Welsh said he hopes to fortify the department by developing its part-paid volunteer program.

Incidents such as a severe storm that struck June 9 can exceed the department's ability to respond, Chief Welsh said. The volume of calls received during the storm forced the department to prioritize emergency calls, with no response for wires-down calls, he said.

The township plans to add five full-time firefighters to the department, and Mr. Welsh told township trustees last week he'd like to supplement the 14-person minimum staff with scheduled, part-paid volunteers.

The nine current volunteers serve only as on-call back-up in emergency situations. The group is compensated with a stipend for travel. They also receive minimum wage for hours worked.

Mr. Welsh hopes to begin scheduling some part-paid volunteer staffers, about once weekly, he said. The department has received 18 applications for additional part-paid staff members.

"We do have a good number of folks that are ready when we're able," Mr. Welsh said.

However, the fire department has borrowed more than $1 million from the township's general fund. Township officials are hesitant to increase the department's debt before the additional revenue begins being collected in January.

"We're very excited to get that program moving forward," Trustee Pam Hanley said. "That's going to keep the overall cost of running the department down. But we've got to get that funding."

The township has projected that the fire department will borrow $800,000 over the next year, township Administrator Hugh Thomas said.

The fire department, which serves the entie township and the city of Sylvania, plans to use the levy's estimated $1.8 million annual revenue to pay new employees, fill budget shortfalls, and replace or renovate four firehouses.

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

aschmitt@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.

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