GAMBIER — It’s in the initial input gathering phase now, but soon-to-depart Village of Gambier Mayor Kachen Kimmell said this week the village needs to consider forming a joint fire district with College Township. And she has backing from a key Kenyon College official, as well as advice from the village solicitor about how to proceed on what would involve a multi-stage public process including hearings.
Kimmell addressed the matter during her Mayor’s Report Monday at the monthly village council meeting. She offered that on Oct. 10, she, joined by Village Administrator RC Wise, met with Mark Kohlman, Kenyon College chief business officer, and Barry Bowden, one of College Township’s three trustees. Copies of Kimmell’s reports are provided monthly to village councilmembers.
“Since then,” she said of the Oct. 10 meeting, “the College Township trustees have asked that the village and the (township) consider entering into a joint fire district pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Ohio Revised Code. In a related request, the College Township trustees have also requested that the village consider a merger between the village and the township.”
She wrote in her report that what is at stake with College Township Fire Department moving forward into the future is important, adding, “Deciding what to do with the township and the fire department will be a big item on the agenda for the next (mayor’s) administration.”
That mayor will be Leeman Kessler, a first-term councilmember who is now the mayor-elect and will soon take office after running unopposed. In a related matter, the next village council meeting Dec. 2 will be preceded by a Strategic Plan meeting setting a course for future planning issues in Gambier, during which the joint fire station and possibly the idea of a Gambier-College Twp. merger could be raised.
College Township is less than a year removed from a contentious split with Monroe Township, involving Monroe’s decision to sever its fire and EMS service ties with College Township Fire Department, located in Gambier. Monroe Township trustees decided to form their fire department and temporarily contract with Pro Care ambulance services until their volunteer staff members have met EMT qualifications. The split with College Township became official at the end of last year.
Kohlman weighed in on the joint fire district idea during Monday’s council meeting, noting that over the last four years, township fire department costs have risen because it has shifted further away from being a volunteer department with fewer volunteers, those being a handful of volunteer Kenyon students. If the community decides it wants to keep its fire department, it is going to have to come up with the means to pay for it, he offered. Kenyon College provides $120,000 per year to operate the fire department, which also exists through levy funding. Kenyon’s contribution will increase to $140,000 next year.
The fire department has a full-time chief, Bill Smith, who earns $62,000 yearly, with half his salary paid from the fire budget that was about $450,000 before the split with Monroe Township, according to the township. Half of his salary also comes from being road superintendent. The assistant chief’s salary is about $35,000.
Monroe Township, as part of its joint fire service-EMS services agreement with College Township, had paid College $125,000 in 2015, a number that increased to $180,000 in 2016 and then to $193,000 in 2017 and 2018. Monroe officials, meanwhile, had wanted more say in College Township Fire Department operations, such as co-approval overall expenditures of $1,000 or more. College Township officials, however, had said that would be akin to telling a laborer what tools to use for his job. The Monroe payments are no longer part of College Township’s fire budget, and Kohlman said decisions have to be made which may involve new proposed funding.
Bailey said Monday if the Village of Gambier and College Township are to form a Joint Fire District, then public hearings — followed by voting on the issue — must follow. But first, the village must make sure township trustees are committed to the idea, he offered. Village residents, and township residents, would cast separate ballots if a JFD moves forward.
Wise, when asked about the other possibility Kimmell raised — a merger between the village and township — said other communities in Ohio have done so. Included is Pataskala in southwestern Licking County, which merged with Lima Township in 1996. The move expanded the village’s population. He did not immediately comment on the specific benefits of such a merger.