BELLAIRE - On Thursday night, council was addressed by several citizens who are concerned about the decision to establish the Bellaire Volunteer Fire Department rather than to renew the village's contract with Neffs.
The predominant concerns addressed by the citizens were centered around finances, lack of communication and, in essence, what is best for the Village of Bellaire and its people.
Dr. Vincent Kolenich wrote a letter to council, which was read by Clerk Mary C. Nixon. The letter stated that Kolenich disagrees with the decision not to renew the village's contract with Neffs Fire Dept.
"Neffs Fire Dept. has provided excellent care and protection for the businesses and citizens of Bellaire since the Bellaire Fire Dept. was dissolved by council," Kolenich wrote. "Bellaire needs to keep all things working to better the village and concentrate on the problems that hurt us."
Kolenich wrote that he had recently spoken with Village Administrator Dan Marling about the issue, who explained that there were financial reasons behind the decision.
The village currently has about a $100,000 deficit, and the contract with Neffs is a $70,000 per year contract.
"It will cost much more than $70,000 to establish a volunteer fire department," Kolenich wrote. "Seventy thousand dollars a year is a bargain, and establishing a volunteer fire department will exceed that and more."
Later, council was verbally addressed by familiar faces Mike Wallace and Jerry Olack concerning the decision to establish a volunteer fire department in the village.
"I served as your fire chief for 22 years; in the fire service, I just completed 40 years," Wallace said. He no longer participates as a firefighter or EMT and, thus, was addressing council as a citizen. "As a property owner and a citizen of this county and township ... I am concerned about fire protection."
Wallace explained that the quality of training and abilities of the firefighters Bellaire is going to have with a volunteer department is far less than what the village currently has with Neffs.
Olack, who is starting into his 40th year of providing fire and EMS protection to the village, also gave his opinion on the quality of firefighters that Bellaire is choosing to give up. "You're giving up professional firemen - from Columbus, Zanesville - that work for Neffs Fire Dept.," he said. "They have 10 and 20 years experience in the fire service. You have fire safety inspectors, arson investigators, instructors who teach people firefighting. This is what you're giving up."
Wallace also addressed the issue of lack of communication between council and the department.
"I think you have an obligation as elected people in this town," Wallace said. "There was no public discussion in this matter. There was one meeting with the fire department who served you. After several attempts to have meetings with a council committee or council, we finally got one, and nothing was ever worked out."
Wallace stated that the department understands financial hardship, but there should have been more public input before council made a decision on the matter. "You owe it to the people of this town to do that," he said.
Bellaire's current contract with the Neffs Fire Dept. will expire at the end of July unless council reverses its decision and renews the agreement.
Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.