April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Council agrees to fire contract in split vote

By HSJ Online [email protected]

The Hope Volunteer Fire Department will be operating under a new contract for the first time in more than a year, after a split vote by the Hope Town Council Tuesday night.

The council voted 3-2 to approve the 2016 contract with the volunteer firefighters, with Council President Clyde Compton and Councilman Greg Sims voting against the proposal for a contract of about $76,000 for the department. Council members Jonathan Titus, Ohmer Miller and Jerry Bragg voted in favor of the contract.

The town's emergency services committee recommended approval of the contract to the council, with committee president Rick Everroad making the case to the council. He said that, in his opinion, the town is getting a bargain for its fire service.

After Everroad's presentation, Compton said he was strictly limiting the comments on the proposal to Fire Chief Randy Wood and to the council members.

Compton had the most problems with the fire contract as proposed, citing concerns with how much the town pays compared to how much the township pays. Under a new budget presented by the fire department, it appears that all of the actual expenses of running the department are falling on the town, while the township funds are being used to pay on the new fire station on the east side of town, Compton said. Compton said it does not seem fair that the township pays less for the fire service, when most of the runs are outside the town limits.

Further, Compton said he is concerned about the fire department using town water, which the town residents pay for, to fill its trucks to fight fires in the township.

In the past, Compton has said he is also concerned that the fire department ended its ambulance service but still wants the town to pay the same amount for reduced services.

Everroad said that one of the reasons the number of runs in the township seems larger is because many times the department is running to Miller's Merry Manor nursing home to provide services, despite the fact that the center's staff is actually better trained than the firefighters.

The fire department went all of last year without a contract with the department and most of the year without any money from the town. Under a memorandum of understanding approved in October, the town agreed to pay most of the department's bills directly but not to pay anything toward a new fire station on the east side of the town. The Town Council members said they were concerned about an ongoing lawsuit against the department by its contractor on the fire station project, but agreed to move forward with a more formal contract, should that lawsuit be resolved.

The department reached an agreement ending the lawsuit earlier this year and asked the town to agree to a contract and regular payments.

At last night's meeting, after hearing from Wood, Compton opened the meeting up to the council members to discuss the issue.

Sims said he would prefer to continue operating under a memorandum of understanding, until the town's financial advisers, the Reedy Group, comes back with an analysis of the department's costs to the town. He said that analysis would give a better picture on whether the town is paying the right amount for fire protection.

Sims also said that he believes the annual contract should be generated by the town, instead of the department, and that the town should be consulting with attorneys knowledgeable about these sorts of contracts.

Bragg said that he also wants to hear from the Reedy Group, but that the town should approve the contract in the mean time.

Miller said that he does not think the ongoing memorandum is enough and that the town should approve the 2016 contract with an eye to making any changes in 2017. He also expressed his concerns that the memorandum would leave the town open to more liability in the event of a lawsuit.

Titus was the deciding vote and said that he thought it was time for the town to put the issue behind it for the year. He said he was satisfied that the fire department had made movement toward being more open with its finances and how the town's money is being spent and that the town could look for further changes in future contracts.

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