City officials will allow part-time firefighters to work more hours, qualifying them for health benefits but reducing the need for neighboring departments to respond to emergencies in Lebanon.
As a result of the change, part-time firefighters will be assigned more than 29 hours a week, qualifying them for coverage under the city government’s health plan through the new federal health-care law, better known as Obamacare.
“I appreciate this coming now,” Mayor Amy Brewer said during a city council work session last week. “The past few months there’s been a lot of misinformation, a lot of panic throughout the community.”
Fire Station 42 has been closed 5 to 6 percent of the time in 2015, according to city statistics.
No fire or ambulance calls went unanswered.
But the closures and reduced staffing resulted in neighboring departments handling ambulance runs in Lebanon on a regular basis, officials said.
The administrative order on part-time hours was issued in January 2013, before the city’s fire fund dropped below $100,000 earlier this year.
The part-time staffing change approved last week is estimated to cost the city about $138,000 a year.
City officials attributed the decline in fire funds to a variety of factors, including equipment purchases and a drop in property values.
In November 2014, Lebanon voters approved a 7.0-mill fire levy, up from 5.5 mills.
Still, reserve funds dwindled this year, prompting the city to dip into the general fund for $250,000 for fire protection and ambulance services.
Staffing of the two Lebanon stations at times dropped from 10 to as low as 6 a shift, prompting the station closures. Staffing calls for four on a fire engine, two on an ambulance, according to Fire Chief Perry Gerome.
City Manager Pat Clements estimated the city lost $13,000 on fees for ambulance runs done by neighboring departments under mutual aid agreements.
“It’s not working,” Clements told the council, while still suggesting reliance on mutual aid was part of government operating at lower costs to minimize the public expense.
“Mutual aid is a form of cooperative and shared services, which is what we are supposed to be doing,” he said. “It’s how small communities work together.”
Leading up to the November election, Councilman Matt Rodriguez keyed on the station closures and service reductions in one of his re-election videos shot in front of Station 42 off the Ohio 48 Bypass.
Raymond Miller III, publisher of the Lebanon Local and a candidate for council in the November election, also took up the staffing issue and effect on the services.
Rodriguez and Miller ran fourth and fifth in the race for three seats on the council.
Last week, Clements briefed the new council on his plan to allow part-time firefighters to work more than 29 hours a week.
“This is the minimum necessary to get the staffing up to where it needs to be,” Clements said.
“The value to the city is huge,” Councilwoman Wendy Monroe said.
Clements and Gerome continue to study adding three more full-timers to the fire department staff. This would cost an estimated $106,000 a year, some of which could be offset by federal grants.
They expect to revisit the issue with the council in January.