Olentangy Valley News

Orange Township fire

Board gives itself two weeks to save firefighter jobs


No Orange Township firefighters will receive layoff notices for at least two weeks after township officials decided Monday, Nov. 26, to continue to explore options to keep the fire department operating at full strength.

In the wake of the defeat of a proposed three-year, 7.8-mill fire levy earlier this month, township trustees placed a three-year, 7.5-mill levy issue on the special election ballot for Feb. 5. They also have been looking at various options to keep the department running, since no money from any new levy can be collected until 2014.

Up to 10 options, most involving layoffs of firefighters and the closing of the fire station on South Old State Road, were discussed during a lengthy closed session during the Nov. 26 special meeting, which was attended by a crowd of firefighters and residents.

After the closed session, trustee Chairman Rob Quigley told those gathered that he planned to introduce a resolution that would begin the layoff process. One option mentioned previously is to lay off 22 full-time firefighters and 10 part-timers, and to close the oldest of the two fire stations.

Under the union contract with the firefighters, a 30-day notice must be given to those who would be laid off, meaning that layoffs would have begun at Christmas.

Trustee Lisa Knapp said all of the options hadn't been considered and she wanted more time.

"It's a very drastic step to take right now," she said.

Quigley explained the notices did not mean anybody would be laid off if trustees are able to find a solution during the next two weeks to keep the department running.

"None of us wants to lay off anybody," Quigley said. "The problem is we have to be realistic about the finances."

Various people in the audience, including firefighter union President Eric Hollenbeck, said they want to know what will happen to them, adding the layoff process should begin so firefighters don't remain in limbo.

However, trustees later decided by consensus to wait two weeks to see what kind of options might work best.

"(Layoff notices) could wait another two weeks until we thoroughly investigate all the options ... I would like to have more comment from the public," Knapp said.

She said she had been exploring other options, including billing for EMS services and using some general fund money to help keep the fire department running during 2013.

Resident Patrick Grubbe urged trustees to hold off on any layoffs.

"Let's work it out. Let's get the extra two weeks," he said. "Is this symbolic -- getting (layoff notices) at Christmas?"

Another resident, Bill Wiebell, also asked trustees to hold off on making their decision.

"We jumped the gun on this meeting ... I implore the trustees to look into this before making any decisions that are going to affect people's jobs, their families, my safety, my homeowner's insurance," he said.

Trustee Debbie Taranto earlier said trustees are trying to do the best job they can.

"Our goal is to not lay off any firefighters ... (and) to work together as hard as we can," she said.

Former trustee Dave Eby told the current board members to make the right choices.

"I would hope the board will work together on a united front ... One of the problems I've seen (is) no confidence in the board because of infighting (on various issues). We don't believe we have the leadership we need."

Collections on the current 5-mill levy end Dec. 31. Fire Chief Tom Stewart and Assistant Chief Matt Noble estimate the department will have a $1.5 million carryover into 2013. The department expects to spend about $6.8 million on operations this year, mostly on salary and benefits.

There are about 65 employees in the department, including 42 full-time firefighters.

Township officials currently are in negotiations with the firefighters' union on a new contract. The existing three-year agreement ends Dec. 31.