Ohio city council debates how to fund rising overtime cost
City council members proposed doing away with a plan to purchase new fire department equipment to pay for overtime, but Fire Chief Jim Parrish opposed the idea
By Jon Baker
NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — City council members debated a proposal Monday from Auditor Beth Gundy to do away with a fund used to purchase new equipment for the fire department and instead use it to pay for the rising cost of overtime for firefighters.
In the end, the proposal was tabled.
For the past several years, the city has designated the money it gets from its fire contract with Goshen Township for the purchase of new vehicles. New Philadelphia will receive $122,000 in 2018 and $125,664 in 2019 from the agreement.
Meanwhile, the cost of overtime for firefighters was more than $400,000 in 2017 and that amount is expected to rise this year. Gundy has recommended that the money from Goshen Township go into the general fund and be used to pay overtime.
At a meeting of council's Safety, Health & Services Committee, Fire Chief Jim Parrish spoke against that proposal.
He said the cost of fire equipment is expected to rise by about 4 percent a year, and the city will likely have to replace its engine truck in 2020, its rescue truck in 2023 and its ladder truck in 2026. Engine and rescue trucks currently cost about $500,000 and ladder trucks cost $1.2 million.
Parrish said council could use the Goshen Township money for overtime, "but understand that the equipment's not going to get newer. There is a time when we're going to have to purchase a fire engine or a rescue unit. If we do that, we'll be looking to the city for money."
Staffing in the fire department has remained the same as it was in 1999, while the call volume has increased from 1,500 in 1999 to 2,825 in 2017.
"The city is providing a service, and over the years that service has continued to grow," Safety Director Greg Popham told council. "The call volume has done nothing but skyrocket. If this was a private business, and your business took off, you would hire people to take care of the service you are providing. We have not done that."
In the past, city officials made the decision that it was cheaper to pay overtime than hire new people, he said. "Now we're knocking on the door of $500,000 a year in overtime, but it's because of the call volume."
Councilman John Zucal said he was opposed to eliminating the fund for purchasing fire equipment, noting that if there was a catastrophic situation in New Philadelphia, the fire department would need up-to-date equipment to respond.
"When we start to say we're going to use that money to fulfill the overtime, I think we'll go down a very slippery slope," he said.
Councilman Rob Maurer responded, "The other side of the slippery slope is what happens when we can't fund the overtime at the end of the year. ... This year we're scraping for pennies to get through the second half of the year with the overtime situation."
He said he favored eliminating the fund and then looking at it again next year.
Councilman Kelly Ricklic, chairman of the Safety, Health & Services Committee, said the city is applying for a safety grant for additional manpower for the fire department.
The grant would run for three years and add six new employees, Parrish said.
In addition, the city is awaiting results of a study being conducted to see if sharing fire services between New Philadelphia and Uhrichsville is a viable option for finding solutions to staffing needs and increased costs. The results are expected within the next couple of weeks.
With those two things in mind, Ricklic said he was tabling the idea of abolishing the equipment fund until the study is completed.
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