FIRE DISTRICT Salem panel rescinds actions by electorate
Council is trying to ward off a budget deficit.
SALEM -- In a move putting it closer to abolishing the fire department, city council rescinded voter-approved ordinances Tuesday that barred the city from taking such action.
The council unanimously repealed measures, approved by 62 percent of voters in November, that prevented the city government from abolishing the fire department and creating or joining a fire district. The vote was taken with no discussion beforehand.
The move drew an immediate rebuke from Mike Burns, president of Local 283 of the International Association of Firefighters.
"Every person in this town was just told that what they want doesn't matter," said Burns, wearing a T-shirt that said "Stop the insanity'' and "Support your Salem Fire Department."
"It's pure arrogance ... It's not good government."
Burns said he would be consulting with his lawyer today, and parties on both sides of the issue agreed the matter would be decided in court.
"This will be a legal fight," said Councilman Walt Bezeredi.
New fire district
The council acted on recommendation of Councilman Greg Oesch, the chairman of a task force that said the city should abolish the fire department and join Perry Township in a fire district. The proposal, aimed at improving the city's financial health, would cut the city's $1.2 million budget for firefighting in half. The savings would come from laying off the city's 16 full-time firefighters and replacing them with part-timers and volunteers.
The district would be run by a fire chief, paid $50,000 a year, and an assistant chief doubling as a fire inspector and receiving a salary of $45,000. Both would be full-time employees.
Asked after the meeting how he thought voters would react to Tuesday night's move, Oesch said, "I don't know." He said the council "most likely" will take action soon on whether to abolish the department.
Councilman Steven Andres said, "I think the voters were misled by that vote" in November. "There is a price tag with that vote," he said, referring to the financial problems the city will continue to have if it maintains the fire department status quo.
Bezeredi said difficult decisions must be made to address the city's serious financial problems. A budget deficit of $450,000 is projected.
"The bottom line is you get to a point where you have to do the right thing," he said.
Meanwhile, Burns was incredulous.
"The arrogant city council has told every citizen in this town, 'We don't care what you want and we don't care what you say. We're going to do what we want.' ''
He accused the council of adopting the measures as emergency ordinances Tuesday night so citizens would not find out about their plans in advance of the meeting. "What's the emergency?" he asked.