Staff Writer

ORWELL -- Dissension reigned Tuesday night as village council debated legislation to begin paying its volunteer fire department members including Chief Joe Albergo and his top assistants.

In the final vote, the issue passed 4-3. Councilors Jane Byler, Charles McElroy and Don Herbster cast the negative votes.

McElroy said his major concerns centered on where the projected $45,000 to $50,000 will come from to implement the pay scale outlined. Rose told council it will be taken from the village's fire levy given to the volunteer company.

Albergo as chief will receive a $400 monthly salary. Monthly salaries for the other officers include assistant chief $200; captain $100; lieutenant $75; and safety officer $50. In addition each of the officers and each volunteer would get paid $10 an hour and an additional $2.50 for each quarter hour increment spent at a fire scene, according to safety committee chairman John Rose.

"It's all around us -- Rome is doing it," said Hartz who voted for the pay ordinance legislation.

Byler said after the meeting that Hartz should have recused himself as Albergo is his son-in-law, and his daughter Denise Albergo is on the department.

"He had a conflict of interest I feel. As a member of the safety committee we haven't been able to get complete and accurate information on how many hours the firefighters spend at fire or training. I've asked for it. That's another of my complaints," Byler said.

During the discussion before the vote, Hartz said he's been in favor of forming a regional fire district in south Ashtabula County communities. Over the past several years the idea died for lack of interest by other nearby township trustee boards, he said.

McElroy suggested revisiting the proposal as it would result in a tax savings to residents.

"You have to want do it (form district) or you don't" Hartz responded to McElroy's query.

Mayor Larry Bottoms has been advocating for months for council to pay its volunteer firefighters.

"Volunteerism has changed a lot today. We are asking these people to give weekends for training. I know it's difficult," Bottoms said referring to the money issues.

Before the vote was taken, Byler read into the record and to council, a letter from former fire chief Jim Byler. The former chief wrote that the pay compensation proposal was not new with council as it had been discussed since 1996.

Byler suggested in his letter that a better route for the council would be to hire a full-time fire administrator with education, vision and leadership qualities to bring Orwell's department up-to-date in its endeavors and compile the data to form a fire district.

"As it was then, and I still believe is true today, monetary compensation is not the answer in attempting to rally the troops (so to say) to step it up and meet today's fire service requirements," Byler wrote. "Time given as a volunteer needs to maintain its value by quality not in quantity."

Rose explained that the pay ordinance would be retroactive to April 1. In pushing for the final vote, Rose said, "What we are paying them is peanuts.

Rose advised that the fire chief has kept track of man (woman) hours spent at fires and training sessions since April 1. Under the provisions of ordinance the fire volunteers will also be compensated for training meetings at $8 an hour with quarter hour increment pay added.

The mayor told council to consider billing residents, who deliberately set trash fire or brush fires against village ordinances. Bottoms said other fire departments have done this to enforce local ordinances.

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