CINCINNATI - What Sycamore Township Trustees did on Tuesday morning resulted in a packed weekly meeting Thursday night.
The Trustees issued an RFP (Request For Proposal) to explore the possibility of outsourcing the township's fire department.
Bids are due February 29th by 1:00 p.m.
President Tom Weidman said the move is exploratory because Sycamore Township will lose millions of dollars when Ohio's Estate Tax is eliminated next year and the Local Government Fund is cut.
"We are averaging $3.0 million a year for the last three years in the estate tax," he said, adding the township's budget projection shows a loss of $3.6 million to the general fund for 2013.
"That's on a projected general fund budget of $7.2 million," he said. "So, basically, we're losing 50 percent of our revenue."
The fire department budget is currently $4.8 million. Weidman said $1.3 million of that comes from the general fund. Emergency Medical Services fees generate $565,000 in income and the rest comes from existing tax levies.
However, he said 2012 revenues are only expected to be $3.3 million.
"So, we have a $1.5 million gap that we have to fix," Weidman said. "Unfortunately, we don't print money so we've got to find a way to make it work to live within our budget."
Trustees have indicated they do not want to go to voters and ask for an increase in property taxes.
That's why the RFP idea is being explored to see if another government agency or private entity can run the department at a lower cost.
Eric Hardesty, Secretary of the Sycamore Township Professional Firefighters Local #3907, said he and his members were completely blind-sided by the trustees' action.
"We understand the need for the township to do what's in the best interest of the residents and balance the budget," he said.
"However, we believed that we were in talks with the administration on ways to save money -- on ways to get out of the general fund -- and to operate the fire department."
Hardesty, who has been with Sycamore Township's Fire Department for 13 years, said he feels outsourcing is an extremely bad idea that could harm citizens safety.
"You can't just put some new person in my spot and think he's going to know what I know about the township and the residents and the streets and the areas that we do," he said.
Would outsourcing save money? Weidman said he's not sure at this point.
"Knowledge is power and we have to empower ourselves with the knowledge we need to make informed decisions in this case," he said. "We don't have all the information, so we're out seeking the information. That's basically what this exercise is all about."
The RFP states that the successful provider should bid no less than 10 personnel on duty around the clock. The fire department currently has 14 firefighters per 24-hour shift.
The township has the right to accept a bid or reject them all. Also, awarding a contract, if any, will be made in the best interest of the township and will not necessarily go to the lowest bidder.
Sycamore Township currently has 28 full-time and 85-100 part-time firefighters staffing two firehouses -- one on Kenwood Road and the other on Deerfield Road -- to serve 20,400 residents, 8,282 households and 1,376 businesses.
Whatever happens, Hardesty said he doesn't want politics to play a role.
"We just want it to be about the safety of the residents," he said. "Whatever is best for the taxpayers is what we want to do and provide the service that they've grown accustomed to."
That was a point where he and Weidman agreed.
"The trustees are committed to not compromising the fire and EMS service we currently have today," Weidman said. "No matter what happens, we are going to continue to keep the same level of service."
Weidman added that he there's a better model out there that's more efficient and can provide equal to or better service, residents would want that explored.
However, both he and Hardesty said the effort is not related to labor relations.
"I don't want to say it's a union-busting tactic," Hardesty said. "I believe that the township needs to balance its budget. We want to help them balance its budget and do what's right for the citizens."
"This is not anti-union," said Weidman. "This is pro-taxpayer. We are stewards of the taxpayer dollars here in Sycamore Township. We are responsible for them and we are trying ton ensure that we spend their tax dollars wisely."
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