By Sue Botos
After letting acceptance of a grant for phase two of the Westshore regional fire district study smolder for over a year, participating cities have recently begun heating up efforts to move the process along. However, some area firefighters have expressed concern over the use of outdated information for continuation of the work, as well as its nonspecific goals.
Rocky River fire Capt. Kevin Bednarski expressed these concerns to City Council at its April 28 legislative session. His comments came prior to council’s introduction of a resolution that calls for acceptance of a grant from the Ohio Local Government Innovation Fund for $100,000. The grant, already approved by Bay Village and Westlake, has been available since last year, according to Bednarski. In March, Mayor Pam Bobst announced that the grant will be earmarked for the hiring of a project director to address the issues presented in an initial study.
Several years ago, Efficient Government Now granted the cities of Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River, North Olmsted, Westlake, Lakewood and North Ridgeville $100,000 for the initial study, which resulted in a several-hundred-page report detailing more than 76 recommendations. These run the gamut from purchasing to operations to training. During the intervening time, North Olmsted and Lakewood, which have their own dispatch centers, and North Ridgeville, dropped out of the proposed collaboration.
Bednarski stated that firefighters are concerned over the fact that original plans formulated during initial meetings among officials of the participating cities included a new training facility, new maintenance building and a headquarters or fire prevention bureau. “We were given a sales pitch that these three things were one way we’ll have of making things better. Now, that’s not happening,” he told council.
In addition, Bednarski said that data in the feasibility study is outdated because it includes the seven original participating cities, not just the current four. “How can you project a return on investment using obsolete data?” he asked.
“We’re not opposed to consolidation, but we want to see it done in the proper fashion,” he continued, stating that there have been no concrete savings numbers presented. He stated that a 1.6 percent cost reduction per city was calculated when all seven communities were participating.
“What about now, with four cities? We need the correct figures and concrete information,” he stated.
Bobst responded that she wants to be cautious with proceeding toward consolidation as well. “Of the four mayors, I was not on the bandwagon,” she stated, adding, “There is great interest in consolidating certain aspects like training and dispatch.” According to Bobst, the city is already saving $700,000 annually by sharing a dispatch center at St. John Medical Center with Fairview Park, Bay Village and Westlake.
While it was originally suggested that the fire chiefs from the involved communities decipher the suggestions made in the feasibility study, Bobst said that an outside consultant could weigh the information objectively.
“We’re a long way away from being able to form a consolidated district,” she stated. “I believe we need to go forward. In terms of savings, we won’t know what we can do until we put someone on the front lines (to go over the numbers),” she added. Since the grant has been secured, Bobst said it would be “shameful” not to take the next step.
Making what he called his “editorial comment” at the end of the meeting, Bednarski said that shrinking city funds could be used for “the greater good.”
“We’re all being pinched by the state. The mayors feel their hands are tied, but we have to stand up to the state,” he stated.