Liberty trustees approve fire department merger study
Liberty trustees vote before public input and
By Bruce Walton
Township trustees have approved doing a feasibility study of a joint fire department between Liberty and the city of Girard.
The midday Monday meeting was to discuss studying a joint venture. About 100 residents and fire department officials came to the administration building to speak. The majority of the crowd protested loudly because trustees allowed public comments only after the vote was taken. The majority also opposed creating the joint district.
The township’s participation in the study still depends on whether Girard Council approves the study as well as receiving up to $50,000 available via a state Local Government Innovation Fund grant to cover the cost. Though Girard Council has not yet voted on the issue, a majority of council members said Monday night they would favor a feasibility study.
To form a district, Girard Council and Liberty Township would need to approve a joint resolution outlining the district’s powers and governing structure. Additionally, at some point, voters would need to approve a levy to fund the fire district services.
Justin Graham, president of Liberty chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the meeting was typical of the recent activity of the trustees – ignoring what the people and the fire department had to say.
“This is America, everyone should have an equal voice in whether they do something of this magnitude,” he said. “This is not paving a road, this is a huge, huge deal.”
Members of the Girard and Liberty chapters of the International Association of Fire Fighters Union raised concerns about how a joint district could affect ambulance services, response times, insurance ratings for residents and the number and location of fire stations.
Trustee chairman Stanley Nudell estimated it will take another year for the township to apply and receive the grant, as well as hire a team to conduct the study. Officials had not yet decided who would complete such a study or what the cost would be.
Nudell said the people in attendance represented a biased minority of the residents, and the trustees will do their duty to give their best to all citizens.
“It doesn’t make any difference because we’re steadfast in our ways, we’re going to go ahead and we’re hopefully going to get the study done and see what the study provides before we have to go back to the citizens of Liberty and say, ‘Look, we’re out of money, we need more taxes.’”
The study would include vital information from both fire districts, such as labor costs from the past three years, salaries and benefits from 2014-2016, revenues from each department, the location of each stations and estimated property evaluations. The study would also include the number of EMS and fire department calls in the past three years and the logistics of travel on current maps of each communities.
The study would potentially provide useful information such as the estimated response time from possible new locations, insurance ratings and logistics for creating a new joint district. Proponents of these districts cite the ability to share equipment, leverage economies of scale and apply more competitively for grant money.
Nudell said if the study does indicate a joint fire district would be beneficial, both communities will conduct numerous meetings with personnel.