By Kevin Kelley
A $100,000 grant from the state’s Local Government Innovation Fund will be used to hire a consultant who will proceed with four cities’ goal of creating a regional fire district.
Bay Village applied for the grant on behalf of the Westshore Council of Governments. Four WCOG cities – Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River and Westlake – are actively pursuing the merger of their fire departments.
Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland chaired the cities’ effort, which began in 2008, until the end of last year. Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough, who Sutherland asked to take the lead, expects to chair the fire district subcommittee after the other mayors give their consent.
WCOG applied for the same grant last year but did not receive it. That brought efforts to combine fire departments to a temporary halt, Clough said. With the grant money in hand, the interested cities will need to begin meeting regularly again on the merger efforts, the Westlake mayor said.
The next step will be the hiring of a consultant, likely a former fire chief, who will take the next steps necessary to create a regional fire district, Clough said.
This project manager, Clough said, must be someone all the mayors and fire chiefs are happy with. Any merger or increased cooperation among fire departments necessarily requires the collaboration of the mayors and the fire chiefs, he added.
The creation of a regional fire district would ultimately require legislation be passed by the city council of each participating city, Clough said.
According to the grant application, WCOG will contribute $40,600 toward the hiring of a consultant.
The state grant is the second $100,000 grant the Westshore cities received in connection with the pursuit of a regional fire district. In 2009, EfficientGovNow gave WCOG money for a feasibility study.
That study, conducted by Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI), resulted in a 486-page report that yielded 76 total recommendations, some of which were for collaborative efforts and some specific suggestions for individual fire departments.
The application for the state grant indicated the project manager the cities intend to hire will “further evaluate the 76 recommendations from ESCI, including full merger, and develop a detailed implementation plan.”
The ESCI report said financial savings resulting from a full merger of the fire departments of the seven cities interested at the time – Bay Village, Fairview Park, Lakewood, North Olmsted, North Ridgeville, Rocky River and Westlake – would be relatively modest.
According to the state grant application, a major objective of creating a Westshore fire district would be “better service at the same cost or the same service at less cost” to residents.
FORUM: The League of Women Voters will present a forum on merging fire departments at 7 p.m. June 19 at the Fairview Park Branch Library, 21255 Lorain Road. The forum is the third in a series the LWV has hosted on regionalism in government.
The forum will focus on the factors involved in a merger of fire departments: how it should be evaluated and implemented, the impact on citizens, cities and firefighters. The forum speakers are Dr. Mary Pisnar-Sweeney, an Associate Professor of business administration at Baldwin-Wallace University and Bernard W. Becker, Director of the Center for Emergency Preparedness at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. Dr. Mary Pisnar-Sweeney co-authored an influential 2005 study proposing a fire district merger in Parma, Parma Heights, Middleburg Heights, Brook Park, and Berea. Director Bernard Becker spent 31 years in fire service, 13 of those years as a fire chief. A graduate of the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program, he is a member of the Institute of Fire Engineers. The forum speakers will answer questions from the public after their presentations.