December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Fire district study a winner

NORTH RIDGEVILLE —  A plan for a proposed regionalization of fire department services for seven cities in Lorain and Cuyahoga counties came up a big winner Thursday when it finished second in a month-long public vote among nine projects vying for up to $300,000 in grant money.

The Westshore Regional Fire District project, which takes in North Ridgeville, North Olmsted, Fairview Park, Bay Village, Westlake, Rocky River and Lakewood, netted more than 3,800 of the 13,500 total votes cast in the EfficientGovNow program.

The project will receive $100,000 to help fund a study by a consulting firm to look at the feasibility of shared fire and ambulance services for the seven communities.

A proposed joint school bus/maintenance operation among the city of Oberlin, its public school system and New Russia Township, finished last in the balloting with 1,360 votes.

“We weren’t just giving away money here,” said Chris Thompson of the Fund for Our Economic Future, a group of 100-plus foundations, organizations and philanthropists working to improve Northeast Ohio’s economic competitiveness via greater government efficiency. “We were looking to fund specific projects with real outcomes.”

Results of the month-long voting, which ended last Friday at midnight, were released Thursday.

North Ridgeville Fire Chief Rick Miller said he is looking forward to the regionalization study but indicated that it may not be the best route for the city to take, given its 25 square miles. Residents in the city’s northwest or southwest neighborhoods would have to wait longer for fire trucks or ambulances coming from centralized locations outside the city.

The city is looking at possibly building a new central fire station and northwest satellite station.

Because Elyria does not operate an ambulance services, North Ridgeville must turn to Sheffield, Avon, or Eaton and Olmsted townships for emergency services, Miller said.

“Our goal is to get paramedics and ambulances to a house in four minutes. Coming from the townships could up that time to 10 to 12 minutes,” he said.

“North Ridgeville and Lakewood might benefit the least under this plan,” North Olmsted Fire Chief Thomas Klecan said. “Cities that are more contiguous to each other would benefit a lot more.”

“Costs for each individual city are getting out of hand,” Klecan said. “Applying the tax base over a larger area could lead to better efficiency. This concept is not new. In Florida and Colorado, they don’t allow 59 separate fire departments in major metropolitan areas. They’re limited to five or six. It’s an economy of scale.”

Both chiefs agree that sharing costs for equipment, joint fire training centers or maintenance garages, and pooling resources such as back-up fire trucks and ambulances would make better economic sense as costs continue to rise.

“Our oldest ambulance always needs repairs, and we’re not the only city like that,” Miller said.

Expected to be completed in six to eight months, the study could recommend anything from one unified fire district serving all seven cities, to a partial consolidation for some communities, and shared services for others.

“The whole idea is to try and strike a balance between reducing costs and improving services,” Miller said.

The seven cities also include Westlake, Rocky River and Lakewood. Some of the seven, including North Ridgeville and Westlake, are already served by the West Com fire and emergency dispatching service.

Regionalization might also lead to improved service through better allocation of personnel and equipment. “By being under one command, you would know where everybody is,” Klecan said. “You could move resources around a lot more efficiently.”

The first- and third-place projects both came from the Mahoning County-Youngstown area. One that proposed an interactive Web site to promote economic development in the area will get $57,451. The other, proposing a regionalized information system, will receive $120,000.  Each of the three winning projects should “expect a sizable payment very soon,” Thompson said.

To read more about the vote, go to www.EfficientGovNow.org.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.