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Falls Council fails to approve fire department ordinance

10/11/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

Cuyahoga Falls Fire Chief Paul Moledor wants the community to know his department continues to offer exceptional service despite the struggling economy.

“Our city is safe,” he announced during the Oct. 8 City Council meeting.

A nearly two-hour Public Affairs Committee meeting was held during the regular meeting to discuss legislation that would reduce the number of assistant chiefs from two to one, lieutenants from 19 to 16 and firefighters from 59 to 52.

The chief explained the proposed ordinance to change the composition of the department reflects how the department operates currently.

Despite a presentation by Moledor on the effectiveness of the department, Council later failed to approve the ordinance by a vote of 3-8. Councilmen Terry Mader (R-Ward 8), Ken Barnhardt (R-Ward 3) and Jeff Iula (R-at large) voted in favor of the measure.

Law Director Paul Janis explained the legislation was necessary to put the current fire department staffing ordinance into the codified ordinances.

He further said the legislation resulted from a lawsuit filed against the city last month by the International Association of Firefighters Local 494 to have three firefighters promoted to lieutenant, as the current staffing ordinance allowed for.

City officials explained the city did not budget for the promotions this year.

Janis said the city has been working to resolve the matter with the union but has not come to an agreement yet. He explained the city offered to promote three firefighters to lieutenants but asked that the department’s time off rule be changed to allow five people to use a vacation day on any given day, instead of six a day, as it is currently. Janis said if three firefighters were promoted to lieutenants, then the city would be losing three individuals responding to calls, which led to the suggestion to change the time-off rule. He accused Local 494 of valuing the promotions over the safety of the city.

Local 494 President David Witner explained the union was not willing to change the time-off rule to gain the promotions because the department already is stretched thin, with firefighters forfeiting raises in recent years and doing more work than ever before. He said adding one more person per day only would make a small impact while the firefighters would lose “quality” time off. He explained the city has been authorized to operate with 84 officers for “a long time,” but it is down to 68 right now.

“The city has asked us to take on more with less people,” he said. “I don’t want to see anyone get hurt.

“I think we are below the level we need to adequately address the risks in serving,” he added.

Moledor said he would like more firefighters in the city, too, but he has to operate within a budget.

“We are not overstaffed or understaffed but properly staffed,” he said.

According to Moledor, the department operates daily with 24 on duty and 48 off, and these firefighters are “not overworked.” It is not taking any longer to respond to calls, he said.

“No one has more admiration for our firefighters than I do,” Mayor Don Robart said.

He agreed the department is “doing more with less,” as are most people in all sectors today.

Robart said he would like to have more fire and police protection, but the reality is a comprehensive budget is done each year the city has to follow.

He added Moledor is running the department “well.”

“It is unfortunate that this controversy has been blown out of proportion,” he said.

Council also unanimously voted not to approve legislation that would have addressed the staffing of the police department. The police department currently can have up to one chief, two captains, four lieutenants, 12 sergeants and 74 patrol officers, as long as there’s enough money in the budget. If Council approved the proposed legislation, it would have allowed for one chief, one captain, five lieutenants, eight sergeants and 56 patrol officers, as it is operating currently.

Additionally during the meeting, a Finance Committee meeting was held concerning a settlement agreement regarding the legal claim of Associated Materials LLC. Council went into executive session to privately discuss the matter. According to the legislation, which was approved later by Council, Associated Materials filed a claim against the city relative to events occurring on June 5. Law Director Paul Janis would not discuss the details of the claim or the agreement made.

In addition, Council introduced legislation authorizing:

• a conditional zoning certificate for the operation of a vehicle repair facility and outdoor sales lot at 1559 State Road in a Mixed Use District 4;

• a contract with Wichert Insurance Services for the professional services necessary to manage the city’s risk management and insurance program for the purchase of public entity insurance coverage;

• a contract without competitive bidding with Karvo Paving Co. for emergency pavement repairs to a portion of Graham Road where two water mains failed at a point abutting 180 Graham Road;

• amending the traffic control file to prohibit parking on the east side of Maplewood Avenue from Birchwood Avenue to the southerly terminus of Maplewood Avenue; to prohibit parking on the east side of Issaquah Street from the southerly intersection of Issaquah Street and Richmond Road; to prohibit parking on the south side of Richmond Road from the southerly intersection of Issaquah Street and Richmond Road; to prohibit parking on the eastern side of Richmond Road in the curve north of Hock Drive from address numbers 2305 through 2339; and to prohibit parking on the north side of Marguerite Avenue from the driveway at 133 Marguerite Avenue to Bailey Road;

• a contract for the construction of a 4,397-square-foot warehouse addition to a city-owned building at 2550 Bailey Road; and

• a contract with the Ohio Department of Transportation for the improvements of State Road between Graham and Quick roads and the city’s share of 100 percent of the project cost, which is about $1.6 million. The improvements would include widening and reconstructing 2.32 miles of State Road between Graham and Quick roads; the reconstruction and upgrade to the signalization at Bath Road; and improvements to the Ascot Parkway and the Steels Corner Road intersection, including new curbs, sidewalks, on-street bike lanes, resurfacing, drainage, signage and pavement markers.

Council will hold its next committee meetings Oct. 15 and a regular meeting Oct. 22, both beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Natatorium, 2345 Fourth St.

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