Safety services staffing

Napoleon Assistant Fire Chief Joel Frey (standing) answers a question concerning fire operations Monday during a Napoleon city council meeting.

Several members of Napoleon’s safety services departments urged council Monday night to find a way to fund increased staffing, and a public forum on the issue will be held soon.

Last month, a city committee recommended to council a proposal to lower the reciprocity income tax credit Napoleon offers those residents who live in the city but work elsewhere. Currently, the credit is 100%, meaning if the income tax where they work is the same or higher than Napoleon’s, that resident pays no income tax to the city.

If the rate is lower, the resident pays the difference. The Safety and Human Resources Committee, by a 2-1 vote with Councilman Jeff Mires dissenting, recommended the credit be lowered to 50%, meaning residents working outside the city but living in Napoleon and receiving services such as fire and police emergency services, would pay .75%.

Lowering the credit would generate about $400,000 per year in additional revenue.

As proposed, the additional revenue from lowering the credit would have allowed:

•The fire department to hire one full-time firefighter/paramedic to allow for three full-time firefighters on each shift;

•The fire department to hire a 12-hour part-time firefighter;

•The police department to hire a full-time dispatcher to bring that staff to six;

•Increased funding for capital improvements, specifically road improvements.

Earlier this month, council rejected the idea, with council members Joe Bialorucki, Ross Durham, Mires and Lori Siclair voting against the motion to bring legislation to council to lower the credit.

Councilman Dan Baer Monday suggested holding a public forum to discuss the issue. A date has not yet been set, but the intent is to hold it in early March.

Members of the fire and police departments made cases for funding to council, stressing the staffing levels are inadequate, leading to employee burnout and, eventually, it could impact the safety of residents.

In the past, Napoleon Police Chief Dave Mack and Napoleon Fire Chief Clayton O’Brien pointed to high turnover in their departments. For police, dispatchers are working overtime to make sure shifts are covered, and in the fire department volunteer numbers have been decreasing for years.

A large part of the reason for fewer volunteers has been the increasing training hours required.

Emergency medical services in Ohio have different levels, basic, advanced and paramedic. Each certification has different hours required, going from 30-60 hours per cycle.

“That’s one reason you can’t keep volunteers,” added Napoleon Waste Water Plant Superintendent Dave Pike, who said he formerly was a volunteer for a fire department.

Napoleon Fire Captain Dave Bowen added there is an additional 56 hours of training required on the firefighter end each cycle as well.

Bowen gave an example of how lower staffing can impact life-saving services for the city.

“The other night, we waited 14 minutes, we had a turnaround at the hospital, until we showed up on scene (at another call),” Bowen said, adding it was due to other responders not being available.

“What happens when you call 9-1-1 and that first squad is out (at another call) and you can’t get that second ambulance out, and you or your significant other is having a heart attack?” Bowen asked. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

He added it takes two people to run an ambulance on a run, but the union contract calls for minimum staffing of the department at one person.

“Show me another union in the country that would be up here advocating for part-time personnel,” Bowen said. “Because it’s bigger than the union. It’s about everybody here, and everybody up there.

“A fire doesn’t care, John Q. Public doesn’t care if you’re full-time or part-time, they just want you to show up (in an emergency),” Bowen added. “And right now, we can’t provide that on a second or third call.”

The fire captain pointed out the department has seen a 150% turnover rate in recent years. All but one of those who have left, he said, went to bigger departments with bigger budgets and better staffing.

Bowen also said he works another full-time job outside the city so he would also have to pay the additional income tax if the credit were lowered.

“It’s going to affect me, I’ll be paying the 1.5% for working here, plus I’ll pay an additional .75% for working there,” Bowen said.

In response to comments made when council rejected the idea two weeks ago that some residents told council members they would move out of the city if the credit were lowered, Bowen said the additional cost would be about $400 a year for someone with income of $50,000.

“Someone’s going to move out of Napoleon for about a cup of coffee a day?” he asked.

Napoleon Police Department dispatcher Tonya Walker has worked as a dispatcher for 20 years, and also used to work fire and rescue, but said the training for that became a hurdle.

She said the dispatching job was taxing 20 years ago when she started, but has become even more so in recent years.

“A big part of our issue is finding the right fit for what we do,” Walker said. “We are also responsible for the operations department, the electric department, anything that happens in the city after hours, we are also responsible for.

“I think sometimes that weighs on people, and as much as we try to prepare them during interview, once they realize what all is involved in our job, it’s just too much for some people,” she said.

The police department currently has five dispatchers working 12-hour shifts, but if someone calls in sick or has vacation, that can extend those hours for the other dispatchers.

In 2008, the average years of experience for dispatchers was 5.5, but that has dropped to 1.33 currently.

While hiring a sixth dispatcher will not eliminate overtime costs, Mack said the savings would be around $12,000-$21,000 per year.

Earlier in the meeting, resident Ellie Cichocki commended council for ending discussion on lowering the tax credit.

“I think we can all agree we want to minimize the amount of residents leaving Napoleon,” Cichocki said.

She asked if anyone had researched why calls for service for the fire department are up 60%, as well as whether operations could be changed.

Cichocki also suggested this might be a time to revisit the idea of disbanding the city dispatch center and using the Henry County Sheriff’s Office. That idea was proposed several years ago and put to a vote of city residents, who voted to keep the city dispatch.

“I must say it seems ridiculous to duplicate services within about 10 blocks of each other in a town our size,” Cichocki said.

Mayor Jason Maassel said it is the intent of council to keep the city dispatch.

“These are serious problems to be solved, and I think (it should be done) before there’s any talk of adding staff or raising taxes to add staff,” Cichocki said.

Email comments to briank@northwestsignal.net

I started at the Northwest Signal in 1994 and became editor in 2004. I graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1994.

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