East Palestine councilman questions fire department’s $400K budget

EAST PALESTINE – A member of Village Council wants to know why the fire department needs a $400,000 a year budget.

Fran Figley asked the question during a recent finance committee meeting to go over the village’s estimated 2014 budget.

He said he has heard the department typically sends ambulance calls to New Waterford.

“A lot of the ambulance calls they don’t actually make. They get a call and don’t have an ambulance so they call New Waterford,” he said.

Village Manager Pete Monteleone said the department is lacking in manpower.

“Recruitment and retention is an issue with the fire department. When we get calls we don’t have the manpower to take them,” he said.

But Figley disagreed and said that according to the department’s monthly reports seven or eight firefighters typically respond to fire or vehicle accidents.

“Maybe we have enough people, and it’s not managed right. That is what it look like to me,” he said.

Committee Chairman Jim Tyger said firefighters are not always EMTs and the department is lacking in EMTs.

“When you see 11 guys go on state Route 14 (for a wreck) it’s firemen, not EMTs,” he said.

Figley and Councilman Don Elzer then asked why, if the department doesn’t have enough EMTs, is it asking for a new ambulance.

Finance Director Traci Thompson said the new ambulance would replace the old one, which Fire Chief Brett Todd has previously said is about 15 years old.

The department typically uses two of the three ambulances for regular calls and the oldest as backup.

Monteleone said a lot of times more than one ambulance is needed on a call and multiple calls can come in at once.

Thompson also said at least two ambulances are needed on a call in most cases.

Monteleone then suggested a safety committee meeting be held to discuss the matter with Todd, who was not at the finance committee meeting.

A safety meeting was set for 6 p.m. June 24 before the regular council meeting.

Regarding the village’s overall budget, Figley said he wants to see something more “realistic.”

He asked how it was possible the budget showed estimated expenses for 2014 at roughly $400,000 more than the $4.3 million expected to come in.

“I don’t know how you can budget $400,000 more than what is coming in,” he told Thompson.

Thompson explained it is a result of carryover and that the village has operated on a carryover the last several years.

She also explained the figures represent each department spending at 100 percent.

She said the village’s estimated carryover from 2013 is $878,000 for all funds, with $83,000 going to the general fund.

Figley was not pleased with the village relying on a carryover to get through each year, but Thompson and Monteleone said moving away from that won’t happen overnight.

“It was something that we inherited it’s going to take time,” Monteleone said.

Thompson said that without the carryover the village would actually be showing a deficit.

“Right now what is helping us is the carryover,” Thompson told Figley. “That carryover is offsetting, increasing our revenue to make it balance.”

Figley then asked how the village has a carryover if the same thing has been done every year, to which Thompson explained that not every department spends 100 percent of their budget.

“We tell each department to watch their budget and cut expenses,” she said.

Figley replied the village should know what it is going to spend and what it is going to take in.

“If everything is an estimate you might as well not do a budget,” he said.

Monteleone said his goal is to have the village operate from an actual budget in the future, and added he is working with Thompson on getting that done.