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FIREFIGHTERS Flier warns against measure



Published: Mon, November 1, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



\An official said two firefighters could be laid off if the amendment fails.

By MARALINE KUBIK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CAMPBELL -- What will happen if voters approve the charter amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot that would give city council the option to change the way fire protection is provided?

According to the fire department, approval of the amendment "would put the community and its citizens at increased risk of injury, property damage or even worse, death!" This message appears on fliers firefighters began distributing over the weekend and hope to deliver to every citizen in Campbell before they cast their votes, said firefighter Greg Rosile.

Rosile is president of Campbell Firefighters Association Local 2998, the union that represents the city's firefighters.

The flier states that the proposed amendment "would give city council complete discretion in determining how to provide for fire protection -- it may choose to do so through volunteer fire fighters, part-time fire fighters, mutual aid or outsourcing. In addition, the amendment would give city council the authority to change the method of service at any time!"

The flier does not state that turning down the amendment will ensure the fire department remains intact as is.

According to the city charter, the city can have no more than one firefighter for every 1,000 residents. It can have fewer, but it cannot have more.

Staffing numbers

Currently, the fire department is operating with six firefighters and one chief. One firefighter retired earlier this year, one was laid off and another has taken a one-year leave of absence. With only six firefighters, the fire department is unable to meet the minimum staffing requirements called for in its contract without incurring overtime.

Firefighters allege that recalling the laid-off firefighter would be less expensive for the city than paying the overtime.

Robert P. Yankle, council president, said that is not true. After six months, he said, the city actually experiences a savings, even with the overtime, because it no longer provides fringe benefits, such as health insurance, for laid-off workers. Fringe benefits account for about one-third of employee compensation.

Workers have also been furloughed in the street department, water department and law director's office. The city's janitor was laid off, too.

Council's response

A letter council drafted in response to the flier states the amendment "would give Campbell City Council the option to maintain a full-time fire department, to participate in a fire district, to purchase service from another entity or to participate in a mutual aid agreement. This does not mean volunteer. The city has no intention of going volunteer, that isn't even an option on this amendment."

The "most affordable and feasible for the city of Campbell is to participate in a fire district but this hinges upon voter approval," the letter continues.

Earlier, Mayor Jack Dill stated that the city is not considering going to a volunteer fire department.

In response, Rosile said that he does not believe anything the mayor says.

More layoffs

If voters don't approve the amendment, Yankle said, 11 more city employees paid through the general fund will be laid off. Two of those layoffs will likely be in the fire department, Yankle said.

The most severe cuts will come from safety services because a disproportionate percentage of the general fund budget is spent in those areas, Yankle said.

In 2003, the city spent 70 percent of its general fund for safety services -- $700,000 of that was in the fire department. According to state auditors, municipalities should spend only about 40 percent of general fund budgets for police and fire.

To bring it in line with what it can afford, Campbell must trim $444,000 more from next year's general fund budget, Yankle explained. To meet the requirements of the state financial oversight commission, the city must have a plan to work within its budget by Nov. 20.

Approving the amendment, he said, would be the first of many steps to save the city money and save jobs.

kubik@vindy.com




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