SALEM COUNCIL No action taken on proposed fire district



One firefighter suggested the city could end up in court over the issue.
SALEM -- City council declined Wednesday to act on a tentative budget for a proposed fire district combining the Salem and Perry Township fire departments and cutting the city's $1.2 million budget for firefighting in half.
David Ventreso, council president, said council may not take up the matter until its regular meeting slated for 7 p.m. April 19 at city hall.
None of the 30 people at the meeting, including firefighters and their family members, spoke about the proposal before it conducted a brief discussion and adjourned.
After the meeting, a few city firefighters in uniform declined to speak when asked to comment on the district that would cost them their jobs.
Union action
However, Mike Burns, president of local 283 of the International Association of Firefighters reiterated his stand that the union would take the council to court if it disbanded the fire department in favor of the district.
He recalled city residents in November approved by wide margins ordinances barring the city from disbanding the department and forming the district.
"If the council circumvents the will of the people, we'll be in court," Burns said.
But, Greg Oesch, a council member who headed the five-member task force that recommended approval of the district Wednesday, said council under state law may repeal the ordinances and form the district.
Frank Coy, a resident echoing Burns' statement last week, called the district plan "a union busting move." The 15 paid firefighters, all full time, would be replaced with part-time employees, who would staff the fire station in Salem and a firehouse in Perry for $9 an hour. Volunteers would be paid $8 an hour when they responded to fires, in line with the district plan.
Burns also questioned whether response times to fires by the proposed district's part-time employees and volunteers would be adequate to save lives and reduce structural damage. "A fire can double in size every 60 seconds," he said.
The district would be headed by a fire chief, paid $50,000 per year, and an assistant chief doubling as a fire inspector, earning a $45,000 salary. Both would be full time.
"We still have some industry left in Salem. We felt we needed a full-time chief and an assistant to carry out a fire prevention program," Oesch said, responding to council questions.
He said the task force assembled a tentative 12-year spending plan for the district, based on its review of the Salem and Perry fire budgets. Salem would be required to contribute $600,000 and Perry $42,000 annually to operate the district, he said.
"The district is feasible. It can be done. It will result in a 50 percent savings in Salem, amounting to $600,000 per year," Oesch said.
Budget shortfall
The district plan resulted from an effort to save money to cope with the city's growing shortfall and payroll expenses, he explained.
The council member said the task force became convinced that the proposed Salem-Perry district is workable after its members visited the Cardinal Fire District, based in Canfield, and the Western Reserve Fire District, based in Poland.
In response to a question from council member Nancy Cope, Oesch said the budget contains an escrow account that would grow in year 12 to nearly $1 million for the purchase of a new firetruck.
Alma Apicella, another council member, asked if the district might entail building a second firehouse in Salem.
"The task force just briefly discussed the question of a second firehouse," Oesch said, adding it was not included in the budget. "If it were built, it would be on the city's east side."