A sometimes-testy discussion about next week's Orange Township fire levy vote and a tentative union contract with firefighters dominated the township trustees' meeting Jan. 22.
Several residents voiced opinions about the levy and the contract, including Bob Ruhlman.
Ruhlman questioned whether the contract, which is dependent on the passage of a three-year, 7.5-mill levy on the ballot Tuesday, Feb. 5, actually contains $1.3 million in cuts over the next three years as announced at the Jan. 7 board meeting.
Township fire officials have said -- and reiterated Jan. 22 -- that concessions made in overtime, including a change to use part-time firefighters to help staff different shifts, would save that amount.
Another announced change is that full-time firefighters would pick up their full share of pension costs -- 12.25 percent -- at the end of the three years.
However, fire officials did not disclose in the trustee meeting earlier this month that the township would soften that blow by continuing to pick up a portion of the pension. That amount would be about 4 percent in the first year of the contract. Currently, the township pays the entire pension pickup for firefighters.
Fire Chief Tom Stewart and Assistant Chief Matt Noble said doing this leaves the firefighters' base salary frozen at 2012 levels. Full-time firefighters currently at the top of the scale make about $63,500 in base pay.
Ruhlman said he thinks the numbers don't add up and said his review of the contract shows a savings of only about $500,000 over the three years.
"What is in the contract that gets us to $1.3 million?" Ruhlman asked. "I'm struggling to see how we get to (that number) ... I see 4 percent raises each year. It doesn't seem to me to be a freeze ... Raises are offsetting pension pickup."
Noble said some might see the 4 percent as a raise, but it actually is just a way for the township to help firefighters maintain their base salary take-home pay.
As far as reducing overtime, firefighters would be paid for 52 hours a week under provisions of the tentative contract, instead of the current 56. They will take days off instead of overtime pay to make up the difference in hours.
Trustee Lisa Knapp also said she thinks not enough information about the contract was released by the fire chiefs earlier this month, possibly misleading the public.
While she said she thinks the contract is fair to both the public and to firefighters, "I added up the original amounts and came up with something different," she said regarding the $1.3 million in cuts. "We need to explain (it) in a way the public understands."
However, Noble and Trustees Rob Quigley and Debbie Taranto said all the numbers were discussed in a closed trustees' session Jan. 7.
"During the (executive) meeting, it was discussed. It was well-vetted ... we're not hiding anything," Quigley said.
Firefighter Andrew Sapp, who is heading up a political action committee that will have volunteers go door-to-door as well as send out mailers supporting the levy, said he will lose $12,000 in overtime under the tentative pact.
"We are saving the township $1.3 million," he said. "I'm willing to do that, to take a pay cut."
Resident David Giancola grew up in Euclid, in northeast Ohio, and told trustees and about 40 others attending the meeting that he saw the city deteriorate because of failed school and other levies.
"I can promise you, you don't want to live in a town where levies go down," he said. "The community in front of you changes."
Resident Kirby Nielsen warned trustees they need to have a contingency plan should the levy fail.
"A word to the wise: Be prepared," he said.
Noble said layoff notices, finalized late last year, would go out to 21 full-time firefighters the day after the special election if the levy fails. Additional layoffs also would be made and the fire station on South Old State Road closed.
If approved, the levy would raise an estimated $7.6 million a year and cost homeowners about $230 a year per $100,000 in property value. A 5-mill levy that expired at the end of 2012 cost about $153 annually per $100,000 in home value.
If passed, no taxes could be collected from the levy until 2014, so trustees would have to borrow from the township's general fund as well as take out loans to sustain the department through 2013.
In another matter at the Jan. 22 meeting, trustees canceled the contract with the Delaware County Sheriff's Office for eight deputies to patrol the township.
There is a six-month notice required, so deputies will continue to patrol during that time period.
In the meantime, trustees, Sheriff Russ Martin and county commissioners will explore ways to continue having some kind of working relationship. The cost for eight contract deputies in 2012 was more than $500,000.
Trustees appropriated $250,000 for 2013, which is expected to cover the six-month-notice period.