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Liberty, Girard officials aren’t fazed by protests

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It would have been very easy for Liberty Township trustees to pay lip service Monday to a study of a joint fire district with Girard and then vote against the idea.

After all, with about 100 firefighters and other residents voicing their objections, Trustees Stanley Nudell, chairman; Jason Rubin; and Jodi Stoyak could have punted.

But they didn’t – and for that they have earned the praise and support of the community.

On this issue, Nudell, Rubin and Stoyak are showing true leadership given the political blacklash that undoubtedly will come.

Likewise, a majority of the members of Girard City Council let it be known Monday night that they too favor a feasibility study.

Girard council hasn’t met to vote on the issue, but given the level of support expressed by the lawmakers, approval appears to be a foregone conclusion.

While firefighters in both communities raise objections, the study of a merger of the two fire departments would be the beginning of a long process.

As we said in an editorial Sunday that urged Liberty Township trustees to cast a formal vote, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain from an independent analysis of government’s finances.

The editorial was prompted by a decision last week by trustees Nudell and Rubin to not consider the issue after firefighters made it crystal clear they oppose a joint fire district.

We are pleased that Stoyak was undaunted by what occurred and let it be known that she intended to resurrect the issue at Monday’s meeting.

With all three trustees now on the same page, there is a commitment to government efficiency and fiscal responsibility. That’s a good thing, given the challenges that communities in the Mahoning Valley face.

Courage

It does take a certain amount of courage for public officials to take on issues that are perceived as anti-union.

Indeed, a comment from Nudell that the people who attended Monday’s meeting represented a biased minority of residents is noteworthy.

If there are residents in Liberty and Girard who believe there’s no harm in exploring ways of making government more efficient and getting the biggest bang for the buck, they need to be heard.

Liberty trustees and Girard council members must stand firm in seeing the study of a joint fire district to the very end.

As Nudell put it, in the face of the objections raised at the meeting, “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.’”

Likewise, in Girard, the fiscal challenges confronting city government require Mayor James Melfi and lawmakers to look at all options for cutting costs without sacrificing the level of service to the residents.

The merger study of the fire departments could focus on vital information from both communities, including labor costs from the past three years, salaries and benefits form 2014-16, revenues from each department and the location of each station.

The study would also consider the number of EMS and fire department calls in the past three years and the logistics of travel on current maps of each community.

Of singular importance to the residents of Liberty and Girard would be estimated response time from possible new locations, insurance ratings and logistics for creating a new joint district.

The study isn’t about taking a risk on an initiative that is breaking new ground. There are joint fire districts in the Valley and around the state.

Atty. Dave “Chip” Comstock, chief of the Western Reserve Joint Fire District in Poland, offered this observation that should serve as a guide for Liberty and Girard:

“If your sole purpose in creating a joint fire district is to save money – stop; the purpose of creating a joint fire is to provide better fire protection. The frustrating thing is that everyone wants the best, but nobody wants to spend the money.”