Olentangy Valley News

Resigning firefighter cites 'attacks' on department

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A Liberty Township firefighter resigned this week, citing political fallout and job instability, making him the third to do so in the past nine months.

At a meeting Monday, June 3, Trustees Curt Sybert and Mary Carducci approved the voluntary resignation of firefighter-paramedic Steve Hemmelgarn. He will move on to work as a firefighter for the Marysville Division of Fire in Union County.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan was absent.

In a letter of resignation, Hemmelgarn stated he made the choice "with great regret."

"I have enjoyed my employment for the last 61/2 years, despite the stresses of the past year," he wrote. "Due to the politically motivated attacks by Trustee Leneghan, the department's staffing has been decimated, and I no longer enjoy the job security that is necessary to provide for my family."

Hemmelgarn was referring to the reduction of full-time staff by 20 percent, completed this year after a levy to fund the fire department failed on the November ballot. The levy was opposed by Leneghan.

An emergency levy to save the department was approved by voters in February.

But with a smaller budget, the fire department made plans to operate with a leaner staff; 10 full-time employees who retired, resigned or were fired earlier this year won't be replaced.

Two who resigned specifically cited concerns about job security and the contentious levy debate as motivators.

Last fall, trustees also laid off an additional 10 part-time firefighters and canceled a program to connect area seniors with local services.

One of the laid-off firefighters will be brought back to fill the vacancy left by Hemmelgarn, however.

Fire Chief Tim Jensen said the Marysville fire department already employs two other former Liberty Township firefighters laid off since the November levy failed. Another is now employed by the Marion City Fire Department, he said.

"These other departments are benefiting from our loss and picking up some really good employees," Jensen said.

Also at this week's meeting, trustees approved an updated zoning plan for the Golf Village development to allow 129 condominiums planned for construction at the north end of the subdivision to be built as 129 single-family homes instead.

Developer Village Communities asked the trustees to approve a zoning variance allowing the homes to be built slightly closer to streets -- and to one another -- than allowed by the zoning code so that the overall density of the development could be retained.

Village Communities General Manager Joe Thomas said the change reflects a revitalized housing market.

"The dramatic shift in our game plan is due to the economic sustainability of single-family homes now," Thomas said.

Sybert added: "I'm glad that we see this instead of the multifamily condos. I think this is a better product and it will be better for (the developer)."

Zoning Inspector Holly Foust said construction of the homes is set to begin in June 2014. They will be built in phases over an eight-year period.

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