LISBON - The Sandy Creek Fire District attempted Friday to secure temporary contract extensions with the three Columbiana County fire departments that provide coverage to the western portion of West Township just hours before the contracts were to expire.
The last-minute efforts on the part of the SCFD occurred as its contracts with the Hanover, Homeworth and North Georgetown fire departments were scheduled to expire at midnight Friday.
SCFD Chief Adam Stoller, in an email received at 6:47 p.m., said they presented the extension offers to Hanover and Homeworth, and Hanover had accepted. This was confirmed by Dennis Smith, president of the Hanover Township Fire Association. Smith said Stoller asked if Hanover would agree to continue providing fire coverage for West Township until the SCFD could submit a new contract offer early next week, and Chief Tim Wood agreed.
Homeworth Fire Chief Brian Baker said he lacked the authority to agree to an extension without membership approval but they would take a look at the latest offer when it is presented.
The SCFD would continue providing coverage, and North Georgetown was expected to do likewise because the SCFD has offered to pay them $12,000 - the same as under the previous contract.
"We're still in negotiations but it looks like we're going to sign," said North Georgetown Fire Chief Ed Reichenbach, adding they would continue to answer calls in West Township.
The SCFD is the result of a 2011 merger between the Minerva and Robertsville fire departments and also serves Paris Township and about half of West Township. Of those four areas, only West Township is in Columbiana County.
Prior to creation of the fire district, the Hanover, Homeworth and North Georgetown departments contracted with the West Township trustees to provide fire service to about 30 percent of the township, and Minerva also contracted with the township. The trustees paid Hanover, Homeworth and North Georgetown $12,000 each.
Hanover, Homeworth and North Georgetown contracted last year with the the new SCFD to continue providing coverage for West Township for the same amount. When the parties were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract for 2013, the pact was extended for six months and it was set to expire midnight Friday.
According to the Baker and Smith, the SCFD offered to renew the contract with them for $6,000 per year, half the amount received in 2012. When Hanover and Homeworth balked, the SCFD reduced its offer to $2,000 and $500 per fire run.
In a previous story, fire officials had said the SCFD indicated it could not justify continuing to pay the full amount given the small number of West Township fire calls the other departments receive. Smith said Hanover responds to about 10-12 calls in the township per year, while Baker stated Homeworth has four to five township calls on average.
In response to that argument, officials pointed out all fire departments have fixed expenses, regardless of how many how many calls they receive. Baker and Smith also believe West Township residents within the SCFD are being treated unfairly since they are being charged significantly more in more in property taxes under the new arrangement.
Earlier in the day, Baker and Smith had issued a news release in the form of a letter to the editor announcing that after midnight Hanover and Homeworth would no longer be able, in the absence of a binding contract, to legally respond to calls in West Township, and detailing the series of events that lead to this moment.
"I'm just confused why they would wait until six hours to contact me to negotiate when we haven't heard from them since April," Baker said.