The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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December 13, 2012

Conneaut city manager wants to rework wages for volunteer firefighters

CONNEAUT — Unhappy with the response to emergency calls, City Manager Tim Eggleston wants a new pay structure for the city’s on-call firefighters.

Eggleston, at Tuesday’s City Council public safety committee meeting, said he is seeking to give personnel at Fire Station 3 a stipend instead of hourly wages. Some of the 20 station members are earning money by showing up for training or doing maintenance work around the station instead of answering medical and fire calls, he said. Eggleston proposes a flat rate for members tied to certain requirements, which could include call response.

“We’re still having problems with call-outs,” he said.

Council was leery of the stipend plan, believing it could actually discourage those members who regularly answer calls.

On average, the city budgets around $50,000 a year for on-call firefighter payroll, Eggleston said. Under the stipend plan, half of that money would be earmarked for repairs and maintenance at Fire Station 3, the manager said.

Council members feared the stipend could backfire, squelching the morale of the station’s dedicated firefighters. The two at-large members, John Roach and Neil LaRusch, suggested the city consider a step system that pegs payment to the number of calls answered.

Officials have said Station 3 response began to dip after the city restructured the fire department nearly four years ago. An ambulance was moved to Fire Station 1, home to the city’s full-time firefighters, a move that allowed the city to tap into revenues once collected by Station 3. The action was resented by many Station 3 members.

Earlier this year, the administration began a series of monthly meetings to discuss the fire service and also assigned Assistant Fire Chief Steve Sanford to deal with on-call firefighter concerns. Results so far have been disappointing, Eggleston said Tuesday.

“The monthly talks have not gone as well as I would have hoped,” he said. “There has been some resistance.”

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