New contract reached for West Twp. fire protection

LISBON – Three Columbiana County fire departments will continue to provide coverage for West Township after a new contract was reached with the Sandy Creek Fire District.

According to officials, the SCFD board agreed Wednesday to continue contracting with the Hanover, Homeworth and North Georgetown fire departments for the same amount of money as before.

“We do now have a contract and we got what we were looking for,” said Homeworth Fire Chief Brian Baker.

Before the creation of the SCFD, the Hanover, Homeworth and North Georgetown departments contracted with West Township trustees for $12,000 each to provide coverage for about 30 percent of the township. The Minerva Fire Department covered the western end of the township.

In 2011, the SCFD was created as the result of a merger between the Minerva and Robertsville fire departments. As a result, Hanover, Homeworth and North Georgetown contracted with the SCFD in 2012 to continue providing coverage for the same $12,000.

When it came time to renew the contract for 2013, the fire departments balked because the SCFD wanted to slash what it paid them from $12,000 each per year to $6,000, and then $2,000 after the fire departments refused to accept the initial offer.

The contract extension was set to expire June 28, but at the last minute the SCFD told the fire departments it would make another offer and gave the parties until July 17 to respond. Baker said the offer they received was the same as the previous one – $2,000 a year and $500 per run – which his department rejected.

In the end the SCFD agreed to a new three-year contract, with the departments continuing to be paid $12,000 in 2013, followed by 5 percent increases each of the next two years, which is what they wanted all along.

“It’s actually what we were looking for on Dec. 31, when the other contract expired,” said Dennis Smith, president of the Hanover Township Fire Association.

Baker did not attend the SCFD board meeting but heard public pressure may have played a part in the SCFD’s change in position.

Larry Chilson, a captain with the North Georgetown Fire Department, did attend Wednesday’s meeting, which he said was also attended by West Township trustees Dale Lowmiller and Glenn Whiteleather, who expressed their concerns about contract negotiations.

West Township residents are paying a combined 4 mills in property taxes to help fund the SCFD, and Chilson said several of them showed up and addressed the board.

“They wanted to make sure their tax dollars were being used to provide the best fire protection possible,” he said.

Baker, Smith and the other local fire officials said they could not afford to operate on less money than they were receiving before, pointing out they have the same fixed costs, regardless of how many calls are received,

“Our trucks cost us the same whether it’s sitting at the station or running 10 times per week,” said Baker, who compared the contract to having an insurance policy should something happen.