Olentangy Valley News

Orange Township fire contract saves $1.3 million

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The Orange Township firefighters' union and township trustees have approved a tentative three-year labor contract that would save the financially strapped fire department an estimated $1.3 million over the life of the agreement.

However, a final agreement is contingent on the passage of a three-year, 7.5-mill fire levy this year.

Full details of the tentative agreement were not released at the trustees' meeting Monday, Jan. 7.

Assistant Fire Chief Matt Noble revealed some details of the tentative pact, which includes:

* A savings of about $455,000 a year for the fire department.

* Phasing out the pension pickup by the township over the three years, with firefighters then picking up their 12.25-percent pension share.

* A freeze of salaries at 2012 levels. Firefighters at the top of the scale currently earn about $63,000 a year.

* Expansion of the use of part-time firefighters, who make about $12 an hour, to help with staffing levels on all shifts.

* A trade-off of mandatory overtime in exchange for time off.

Kevin McDowell, vice president of Firefighters' Local 3816, said after the meeting that a lot of hard work was put into the negotiations.

Union members voted in favor of the agreement Friday, Jan. 4.

"It took a lot of convincing," he said. "They are well aware" of the concessions made.

"We are making it for each other and the township," he said.

Trustees Robert Quigley, Lisa Knapp and Debbie Taranto all praised the outcome of the negotiations.

"A lot of complex issues were addressed," Quigley said during the meeting. "This is one of the first times in awhile to really address some of the major changes."

Knapp, who has been trustee liaison with the fire department for the past year, said, "I think our firefighters are making tremendous sacrifices."

The fire department has more than 40 full-time firefighters, and Knapp estimated the concessions will cost each of them about $10,000 a year.

Taranto also thanked the half-dozen or so firefighters who attended the meeting for making concessions that will help the department continue to operate.

Whether the 7.5-mill levy will be on the Feb. 5 special election ballot or have to wait until the May primary election is still up in the air, pending a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Last month, the Delaware County Board of Elections ruled the issue off the February ballot, saying the hand-delivered filing missed the election deadline by two minutes and that paperwork was incomplete.

The township filed by email twice on Nov. 7, at 3:54 p.m. and 3:56 p.m.

Township officials contend the email filings should be sufficient and have asked the Supreme Court to reverse the board of elections' ruling.

Ohio law does not address email filings of election issues.

The township went to the Supreme Court on Dec. 12, but no ruling had been made as of Tuesday, Jan. 8.

A new levy is needed because a previous 5-mill levy has expired and the fire department had only a $1.5 million carryover into 2013. The department had an operating budget of about $7 million in 2012.

Even if the levy, which would raise about $7.8 million a year, is approved, no property tax collections can be made until 2014.

Borrowing from the township general fund, as well as taking out loans, will be required to help the department operate on a bare-bones budget in 2013.

Also at the Jan. 7 meeting, trustees tabled a resolution to cancel a contract with the Delaware County Sheriff's Office that provides eight contract deputies to patrol the township.

The cost of the contract is expected to be about $580,000. In an appropriations measure approved Dec. 27 by trustees, the sheriff's contract was cut to $250,000 -- enough for four contract deputies.

However, trustees will wait until their next meeting to see how much the payment for the last quarter of 2012 will be. They also want to see if the sheriff has possible ideas on how to rework the contract.

Under the terms of the current contract, either party must be given six months notice before canceling or changing the contract.

The Jan. 7 meeting also was an organizational meeting, with Quigley re-elected chairman and Taranto vice chairman in 2-1 votes. Knapp voted against the re-elections.

Knapp also requested that formal rules of order, such as Robert's Rules of Order, be approved, but no action was taken.

She said some meetings in the past year got out of control, with some people making rude and unprofessional remarks.

Quigley said the current meeting format works. There was much public comment at meetings over the past year because of a variety of issues, he said, adding meetings will be maintained in an orderly fashion in 2013.

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