MILLBURY — Barrett Dorner has only been Lake Township fire chief for three months, and he could be on his way out.
Dorner said the move to a district operation, which is being studied by the township, Rossford and Northwood, could eliminate his job.
But, Dorner said that improving fire and EMS operations is so important that he is a fierce fan of the study and somewhat resigned to his potential fate.
“We’re here for the public and I’m willing to look at this, despite the fact that it may leave me out of a job,” Dorner said at Tuesday’s trustees meeting.
“If I’m a short-timer because of that and it’s better for the citizens, then so be it,” Dorner said.
Stan Crosley, of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association Consulting Services, joined the meeting via livestream to talk about the Joint Fire & EMS District Feasibility Study, which looks at combining Lake Township, Rossford and Northwood operations.
The study concluded that a joint fire district would provide better, more reliable service. However, it would not lower current expenditures.
The study was proposed as it becomes challenging to find employees and volunteers, and the departments are competing for the same personnel.
“You just don’t have the numbers that you used to,” Crosley said.
Once a plan is settled on, it will take excellent communication to explain it to the public, he said.
“It will take local champions for this to work,” Crosley said. “You’ll have to explain this to the public in detail … the benefits.”
The departments need an investment, whether or not they are combined, he said.
“Regardless, if you create a district or not, if you’re going to solve your staffing issues, it’s going to cost you more money, one way or the other,” Crosley said.
His agency is often consulted by entities that want to spend less money for fire and EMS services.
“They think creating a district is going to result in less money. But if you’re creating a district to solve the staffing problem … it’s going to cost you more money,” Crosley said.
Some cost savings could be in equipment.
For example, there are currently eight ambulances between the three departments. This could be reduced to six or five.
The study presented four staffing scenarios with budgets.
Revenue that may be needed ranges from a 4.5-mill levy to a 9.5-mill levy, along with EMS billing, depending on the number of full-time employees.
The study gave an example of what a possible levy increase would look like. If a new fire and EMS district is formed and an 8.5-mill levy is passed, the property owner in Rossford will pay 4.7 mills more than the current 2.8 mills. Property owners in Lake Township will pay 3.7 mills more than the current 4.8 mills. The entities involved would cease collecting on current levies.
Northwood property owners would pay on a new 8.5-mill levy.
Ken Gilsdorf, trustee chairman, said that the Tuesday presentation was information only; questions from the public would be taken at a later date.
“There’s a lot of options in here,” Gilsdorf said.
Lake Township Trustee Lorie Davis said there was another option to consider: Keeping the department as is, and investing in staffing.
“We could create our own full-time department,” Davis said.
The 144-page report delves into all three departments and their communities.
Some of the details:
• Lake Township has 54 personnel, with some full-time positions and mostly paid-on-call workers. Over the past eight years, there has been a 72% increase in calls. The 2022 operating budget was $1.5 million. It is funded with four tax levies that total 4.8 mills.The township had 1,608 calls in 2021. The township’s population is 15,544, including Millbury and Walbridge. The area served is 34.8 square miles.
• Rossford has about 31 fire and EMS personnel, with the chief position the only full-time one. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 56% increase in calls, with 1,262 calls in 2021. The 2021 operating budget was $538,540. It is funded with general fund revenue from the city’s 2.25% wage earner income tax and two tax levies. The population is 6,299. The area served is 5.5 square miles.
• Northwood is staffed primarily with paid-on-call staff and has 41 personnel. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 54% increase in calls, with 1,083 calls in 2021. The operating budget for 2021 was $788,762. It is funded by general fund revenue from the city’s 1.5% wage earner income tax. The population is 5,160. The area served is 8.4 square miles.