By Jeff Gallatin
Four Westshore cities continue their efforts to form a regional fire district or authority and plan to apply for $100,000 in state funds to help pay for a director to help implement the new organization.
Mayors from Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River and Westlake met with state Rep. Nan Baker July 18 in Westlake to discuss the best ways of seeking state funds. Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland said the funds could be obtained from the state department of development.
“We would have to apply for them by September,” she said. “We appreciate state Rep. Baker’s assistance in helping us look into the best ways to seek the funds.”
Officials from the four cities have continued discussions on how to best implement a regional fire district authority in the Westshore. Sutherland said the group believes a director or facilitator would make the transition to a regional organization smoother.
“Whoever we hire would be expected to have expertise in the areas of organizing this type of organization as well as fire and emergency services,” Sutherland said. “Having someone like this who can devote a lot of time and energy to the project would be a major benefit to all of us involved in it.”
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said when appointed, the new director could help guide the fledgling organization through its initial months.
“We’d expect someone like that to be on board for about a year or year and half to help get everything running smoothly,” Clough said. “After that, ideally, one of the chiefs from the departments could become the leader of it.”
To help smooth the way, Bay Village is placing on the ballot a charter amendment that would take the fire and police chiefs out of the civil service system. Sutherland has said this will help make the transition to a regional fire organization easier. She said ultimately, she would like to see some kind of regional civil service authority in place to deal with the firefighters and paramedics who work for the regional organization.
“We would need something in place to handle that,” she said. “If they work for a regional organization, there would have to be something there for that.”
Bay Village fire Chief Chris Lyons and the department’s union have expressed reservations about the plans.
“I don’t think that it’s required to remove the chiefs’ positions from civil service in order to regionalize,” said Brandon Dimacchia, head of the Bay firefighters union. “Ohio already has some pieces in place to do this. Especially, if we start joint purchasing and training together. Why would the charter need to be changed?”
Dimacchia said he thought the plans to regionalize belong on the ballot.
“I feel that if the citizens of Bay Village should vote on anything, it should be if they want regionalization or not, instead of voting on civil service changes. I have been repeatedly voicing concerns that if we regionalize, Bay has the most to lose. Do you get better customer service at a local hardware store? Or at a big box store? The citizens should get to voice which they would rather have.”
Dimacchia said obtaining the grant would help the cities.
“I hope the mayors get the grant they desire to hire a project manager, because I don’t think they can afford it out of their budgets,” he said. “After all, we’re four firefighter/paramedics short, and that’s where the money could be better spent.”
Sutherland said the funds apparently would come through the state department of development. She said Baker and the mayors would try to work with the state to facilitate the process.
“My understanding is we’d hear about the grant in December,” she said. “We’re doing whatever we can to make this authority work.”