Council debates fire truck purchase
By Sarah Einselen
Galion city council debated frugality versus safety at its regular meeting Tuesday night in council chambers, finally taking a step toward authorizing the purchase of a new pumper truck for the fire department on a 4–2 vote—but two more readings of the ordinance remain.
The ordinance under discussion authorized city manager Gene Toy to purchase a $360,000 pumper truck from KME-Kovatch Organization through the state purchasing program. It wouldn’t be a competitive bidding process because the state program has already done the bidding and gotten a good price on the truck, Toy and fire department Chief Phil Jackson said.
But some members of council were reluctant to authorize the outlay.
“I’d like to see this put on the back burner because we’ve got some projects on the front burner relating to electric rates,” said 4th ward council member Roberta Wade. “The city has been on a spending spree purchasing equipment and we need to put a stop to that for a while.”
Wade said the purchase could be reconsidered in future years, perhaps as early as next year, but was not appropriate at this time.
“I know it’s a large expenditure,” replied at-large member Cathy George. “But what price do you put on safety?”
The payments would be spread out over ten years, and assuming a 3 percent interest rate, would cost the city about $40,000 per year starting in 2013. The cost was built into the city recovery plan and 2012 budget but Jackson had hoped to receive a FEMA grant to cover the purchase. The department got a smaller grant instead to be used for other purposes.
Jackson, on hand to make the fire department’s case, explained that current pump capacity stands at 2,750 gallons of water per minute, less than the 5,000-per-minute needed to adequately respond to a fire at one of the large area buildings like Hydraulic Technologies or the hospital. The new truck would replace one the city purchased in 1989 and would ensure the department’s compliance with fire protection standards, Jackson said.
“What’s important to note about that,” he said, “when ISO rates the fire department, we have to comply with certain standards.” If the city can’t, its rating from the International Organization for Standardization drops, affecting insurance rates for homeowners and businesses. Currently the department falls short on pump capacity, as well as some other areas, and the new truck’s design and equipment would rectify the shortcomings.
“As soon as council sold that other truck without a plan to replace it, we were dinged by the ISO,” he said. He referred to the sale of a city pumper truck about four years ago. The department has needed a new pumper since, said Jackson, but the purchase was pushed back while the city took care of its other financial needs.
“We’re just trying to get a sensible, efficient truck that’s safe by all standards,” Jackson said. “We’re looking at saving costs down the road, but we really have to make this purchase—soon.”
Council members Tom Fellner, Walt Keib, Cathy George and Gail Baldinger approved the ordinance’s first reading, overriding council members Roberta Wade and Paul Flannery. The ordinance will be held to a second reading at the next council meeting on Feb. 28.
Facilities projects, amended contracts and an annexation
Council also passed a number of emergency ordinances and approved a second reading of an ordinance that adds the old Union school property to Uptowne’s design-review district one.
The city will apply for a State Capital Improvement Program or a Local Transportation Improvement Program loan to be used for the North Market Street storm sewer project. The 30-year, 0 percent loan would amount to $105,000 and would be matched by the city’s local share, $656,000, to reduce stormwater inflow and infiltration in the street’s sewers. The project was originally to be completed using city funds plus a similar amount of debt, so Toy got the OK from state auditor’s representative Belinda Miller to borrow at the zero-interest rate rather than the 2 percent that had been budgeted.
Toy was also authorized to sign a cooperation agreement with Polk Township for paving Dawsett Avenue between State Route 19 and South Street. The Ohio Public Works Commission will pick up 58 percent of the $190,000 project, with the remaining 42 percent being split between Galion and the township. Polk will pay about 15 percent of that local share.
Council amended the city contracts with Resse F. Mills and David W. Keller for city law services to clarify the complicated way they were paid. Where before they were half public employees, half independent contractors, “this essentially makes them PERS [Public Employees Retirement System] employees, clears up the contract and even saves us a little bit of money,” said Toy. The previous contract dated back to 1994.
Bidding will begin soon on the influent upgrades on the city wastewater treatment plant. “If it seems like a project that’s been around for a while, that’s because it has,” said Toy. “It really needs done, needed done five years ago.”
It was planned last year, but all bids came in over budget. Toy and others tweaked the plan—modifying only the manner in which things would be fixed, not the actual things to be fixed—and will try to fix everything in one fell swoop, since the repairs require diverting the wastewater coming into the plant. The estimated cost is $904,000.
AMP Energy asked the city to sign a replacement certificate relating to the financing of the Prairie State Energy Campus project, which council approved. The old certificate didn’t reference the Build America bonds that have become available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, so AMP’s legal council said the participant cities should execute a new certificate that says basically the same things but adds language about those bonds.
Council approved requesting the annexation of about three acres of city-owned land on which sits the airport house. The land is in Richland County and is adjacent to the city’s corporation limits. Toy explained that assuming MedFlight establishes its base there, which it looks like it’s doing, employees there wouldn’t necessarily have to pay income tax to the city unless their employment base—i.e., the airport house—were within city limits.
City manager’s comments and committee reports followed discussion of the ordinances. Toy asked council to confirm the appointment of former deputy finance director Karen Walters as the new finance director, filling the place of Audrey Brodzinski, who resigned last year. Council did so unanimously.
Finance chairperson Roberta Wade said the Finance Committee had decided to break out city government utility usage to relieve citizens of that built-in cost on their utility bills and to give the government branches motivation to conserve their usage.
“It’s a big project, but ultimately it will take those government costs out of the electric rates,” Wade said.
The Planning, Zoning and Utilities Committee will meet at 6:15 p.m. Feb. 28, before that night’s council meeting, to consider an alley vacation, zoning related to a tattoo parlor, a sign issue and zoning issues concerning farmers’ markets.
The Laws and Ordinances committee met for about half an hour directly after council adjourned to discuss a preliminary draft of an ordinance requiring construction contractors to be licensed in order to work within city limits. It’s designed to help protect citizens from fly-by-night contractors, though as committee member Roberta Wade said, “it’s still buyer-beware.”
The committee also discussed drafting legislation to ban distracted driving—specifically texting while driving—and considered possible ways for law enforcement to work with metal purchasers to catch copper thieves.
Candidates address council
Three candidates for public office addressed council, stating their willingness to cooperate with other local government entities and asking for council members’ and the public’s individual support.
Stanley Flegm, running on the Republican ticket for reelection as county prosecutor, has already spent 10 years in the office, plus two other terms in the 1980s.
“I think that over the years we’ve been able to establish a very good working relationship with the staff in Galion,” he said. Also, he tries to cooperate as much as possible with local law enforcement.
Mark Baker, running as a Republican for county engineer, graduated from Galion in 1980 and returned after a hiatus to serve 10 years as the county’s deputy engineer. He’s committed to working full-time as the county’s engineer, he said.
Dennis Sterling, who lives just outside Galion, is running to represent the newly-drawn 87th district as a Republican. He spent 27 years in law enforcement and another decade with the Ohio Labor Council.
“I want to provide you with a voice at the Statehouse to do things right, to do things fair and to do things reasonable,” he said. He’s married to Galion Police Lt. Lynn Sterling and volunteers at the Mount Gilead Fire Department, where he used to be a firefighter and now helps with administrative tasks.
“Fair and reasonable gets things fixed,” he said. “I don’t plan on going to the Statehouse to create problems. I plan on going to fix problems.”