Council discusses township safety services contract

by Dan Holland

Aug. 1 village council meeting

Members of Richfield Village discussed a proposed three-year contract with Richfield Township to provide fire/EMS and police services. Under the proposal, the township would agree to a 6% increase in 2024 over the current year’s cost of $609,505 for fire/EMS and $791,876 for police, with a 3% increase in 2025 and 2026. Previous contracts had increases of 4% each year from 2018-2023.

Legislation for the contract is expected to receive a first-reading in August with two additional readings in September. The current contract expires Dec. 31, 2023.

Richfield Township Trustee Vice-Chair Don Laubacher, who had met with the village finance committee, addressed council at the meeting.

“I did research on past contracts, and we’ve never had a 6% increase except in 2011,” said Laubacher. “So, 6% is higher than we’re used to, but I was willing to concede the increase for two reasons: access to the professional services that we receive; and second, I’m fully aware that it’s difficult to hire police and fire personnel today.”

Laubacher noted that the township fire levy passed in 2021 will be up for renewal in 2024. A continuing police levy, passed in 2014, is still in place.

Councilperson Rick Hudak stated that the long-term solution with contracting services lies in the village and township uniting as one government entity. He also expressed a desire to approve only a one-year contract with a 6% increase.

“The village inherits the cost of other infrastructure – police and fire are just one of those expenses,” said Hudak. “That’s why I am not comfortable with the contract going forward for three years with 6, 3 and 3.”

Hudak further stated that the village residents and businesses subsidize the township in other ways.

“Just because Richfield Village has the ability to levy an income tax doesn’t mean that income tax should go outside of the incorporated part to subsidize the unincorporated part.”

Councilperson Bobbie Beshara responded.

“I appreciate what you’re saying, but they’re called the Richfield Police Department and Richfield Fire Department for a reason – because at one time, we thought we could be joined together,” said Beshara. “I think the township is in a tough position because of the split of where they are; they can’t go to Bath or Brecksville. This is where they have to be,” she said.

Laubacher noted that it would not be plausible to agree to a one-year contract since the township’s replacement fire levy would be in place for three years.

“I say we go 6, 3 and 3, and then we immediately begin negotiating with the township on the fact that in three years’ time, they’re going to have to start participating at some level on the capital, and they’re also going to have to support a specific percentage of the fire and police department,” added Mayor Michael Wheeler.

Yellow Corp shutdown

During the mayor’s report, Wheeler discussed the impact of Yellow Corp., which employed approximately 200 workers at a trucking/freight depot at 5250 Brecksville Rd. in Richfield, ceasing operations July 30 and the potential impact it could have on revenues in the village.

“The failure cost nearly 30,000 jobs [nationally], including 22,000 Teamsters members,” Wheeler read. “Hundreds of its non-union employees were laid off Friday after the company stopped taking in new shipments from customers. It is the biggest collapse in terms of revenue and jobs for the U.S. trucking industry.”

“The overall financial impact of this – we just don’t know yet; it could be $200,000 a year or $1 million a year – this is all up in the air,” Wheeler told The Richfield Times following the meeting. “So, as we go forward, we’ll get a better handle on that. But prior to that, I am slowing spending on things that are not absolutely necessary. We should know something within 45 days from now.”

“We’re hoping that those workers will still seek employment in the Village of Richfield,” Wheeler added. “Some of them are friends and neighbors, and we’ll help them in any way we can.”

Safety Forces

Fire Chief George Seifert discussed an ordinance on the agenda to establish a fee for work performed by the fire chief and/or fire division to determine compliance with the village’s fire prevention code. Two additional ordinances would remove a maximum age of 35 for initial appointments to both the police and fire departments. All three ordinances were on first-reading only.

Following a motion to suspend second and third readings, council approved a resolution accepting the proposal of University Hospitals Health Systems to provide quarterly physical and mental health training sessions for the safety forces.

Police Chief Michael Swanson announced the impending retirement of Officer Jeffrey Michel, who has served with the Richfield police force since 1991. The appointment of Emma Noffsinger to part-time police dispatcher was confirmed by Wheeler during the meeting.

Other business

Council also approved a resolution requesting a permit from The Ohio Turnpike Infrastructure Commission to replace 230 linear feet of damaged municipal wastewater sanitary sewer force main located at 4960 Brecksville Rd. ∞