MAHONING COUNTY Potential charter changes worry Campbell firefighters
Firefighter Greg Rosile suggests city councilmen give up their salaries.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CAMPBELL -- Revising the city charter so that city council can change the way fire protection is provided could be the next step toward fiscal recovery, but firefighters fear it will cost them their jobs and put residents in jeopardy.
As is, the charter mandates that the city operate a full-time fire department with a chief and no more than one firefighter per 1,000 residents, said Mayor Jack Dill. "We can have less, but we can't have more."
Campbell has about 9,460 residents.
The amendment, which will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot, would give city council the power to maintain a full-time fire department, to participate in a fire district, to participate in a mutual aid agreement or to purchase the service from another entity.
"We're not going to be a city that doesn't have fire protection, and we don't want to go part time and we don't want to go volunteer," the mayor said. "We want a fire department that we can afford."
There has been some discussions about forming a fire district with Struthers or Youngstown, the mayor said, but sitting down with neighboring communities to discuss the possibility of developing a plan would be futile without voters' approval. With the charter as it is, Dill said, "our hands are tied."
Although Dill said he believes regionalization is inevitable, neighboring communities would need to agree to participate, and then it would still take a year or more to put a plan in place.
Council members haven't even discussed among themselves the other options for providing fire protection, Dill added.
Those options and the uncertainty as to exactly what would happen if voters approve the amendment worry firefighter Frank Phillips, vice president, Campbell Firefighters Association Local 2998, which represents Campbell's firefighters. "The city has no plan of what they're going to do if this passes," he said.
Furthermore, the fire department has already lost one-third of its workers, Phillips said. Of the nine firefighters working at the start of 2004, one has retired, one has been furloughed and a third took a one-year leave of absence, leaving six firefighters and the fire chief on the job.
"Turning the amendment down will force them [the city] to look for other ways to cut costs other than looking to the fire department," Phillips said.
The city is looking to cut costs in the fire department because, according to state auditors, Campbell is spending way too much for safety services, about 70 percent of the city's general fund.
Safety services -- police and fire -- should consume only about 40 percent of a city's general fund, state auditors said.
In 2003, with nine firefighters and the chief working, it cost the city about $700,000 for firefighters' salaries and benefits, Dill said; the city can only afford to spend about $360,000.
Next year, with six firefighters and the chief, it will cost the city about $458,000 excluding overtime.
In recent years, Dill estimates overtime has cost the city as much as $5,000 or $10,000 per firefighter.
Phillips estimated overtime incurred by firefighters thus far this year at a collective $50,000. He attributes some of that to overtime worked to meet minimum staffing requirements when there aren't enough firefighters on the payroll to cover when someone calls off.
Rather than make additional cuts in the fire department, firefighter Greg Rosile, president, Campbell Firefighters Association Local 2998, suggests the city look to other city departments to make cuts.
He also suggested that council give up or cut their salaries.
Council members make $3,600 a year, council president $4,000. With benefits, compensation for council members ranges from $4,684.98 to $13,209.06 a year.
All city employees could take a 10-percent pay cut, Rosile continued, which he said would be fairer than targeting the fire department.
He also suggested turning off some street lights, eliminating cell phones used by city employees and reducing the use of city vehicles used by the police chief and police detectives.
"We're not fat anywhere in this city, I agree with that," Rosile said, but he believes there are areas other than the fire department where cuts should be made.
Finance Director John Leskovyansky said the shortfall for the general fund in 2005 will be about $440,000, excluding increases in insurance, gasoline and utilities.