Community leaders in Liberty, Girard, Hubbard, Vienna, Coitsville and the Trumbull County 911 emergency call center are on the right track by talking about forming a joint fire district.
Residents in these communities have several reasons to encourage their leaders to press on:
l Avoid future tax increases;
l Prevent staffing cuts, through layoffs or attrition, that would result in diminished safety;
l Improve response time to fire calls;
l Improve response time and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for EMS calls.
Residents in neighboring towns whose leaders did not participate should start clamoring about why.
This get-together hosted by Liberty trustees last week now requires follow through. Meetings and talk are cheap. Improving safety while holding the line on taxpayer expense requires hard work.
Most of those involved have something in common - money woes. Girard is in state fiscal emergency. Liberty is in dire financial distress. Hubbard Township recently passed a road tax because it didn't have enough money to pay for new street signs required by state law. Hubbard city in recent years passed a license plate tax, and not long before that, it increased its income tax.
All of these cash-strapped communities need to replace fire trucks from time to time. That's hundreds of thousands of dollars each that can be avoided by strategically deploying equipment and personnel as one large district.
All of these communities have something else in common - dysfunctional fire departments.
When emergency calls are received, the nearest personnel and equipment are not necessarily dispatched. Rather, the equipment and personnel in the same jurisdiction as the call gets dispatched. That's not the safest system for property and lives.
There are two small examples of how merging works. Hubbard and Hubbard Township have a joint fire district as do Newton and Newton Falls.
Representatives from the southeast communities that gathered last week heard from David C. Comstock, chief of the Western Reserve Joint Fire District. Comstock said the communities shouldn't count on a cost saving immediately. In fact, Comstock said, it sometimes costs more at the outset.
That may not be true in this case. A bill before the Ohio Legislature would provide financial assistance to communities that collaborate. If the group that met last week stays on a diligent course, everything could fall into place for their residents.