Belpre facing loss of EMTs over funding

BELPRE – City council was told Monday the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department will soon have to drop its four emergency medical technicians (EMT)/firefighters because there are no longer funds to pay them.

“We’re running out of money and these four employees take 75 percent of our budget and we cannot afford to keep them,” said Eric Sinnett II, president of the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department.

Because of the closure of the department’s daily instant ticket fundraiser in May 2012, the department no longer has the means to pay the two full-time and two part-time EMTs.

“We have employed at least two EMT/firefighters for over 15 years at no cost to the City of Belpre or the citizens,” said Sinnett, the son of 3rd Ward Councilman Eric Sinnett, who is also a longtime firefighter with the department.

Mayor Mike Lorentz and Safety-Service Director Dave Ferguson were notified of the department’s concerns two months ago.

“We need to get together the officers, auditor, safety-service director and I and work this out,” Lorentz told Sinnett. “They have essentially spoiled the city because they have maintained the buildings, equipment and gear and now that they aren’t able to do that we don’t know how to react.”

Sinnett pointed out that in 2009, the city started third party billing for emergency medical runs with 20 percent of the funds collected going to the department and the other 80 percent going to the city’s general fund.

“I don’t think us getting 20 percent of that money is right,” Sinnett said. “The things we have been doing in the past years, we won’t be able to do much longer.”

Councilman Eric Sinnett said the department made more than 800 squad runs in 2012 and has already made more than 700 runs this year.

“We have already used 90 percent of the fire department budget for the year,” he said.

Council president Will Neff said making the volunteer department a city entity will take a popular vote.

“It’s a referendum issue,” Neff said. “It could be a fee, income tax or other form of payment.”

Councilman Larry Martin said the council held similar discussions when city treasurer Bill McAfee was mayor that included a proposed income tax increase, which failed miserably when put before the residents.

There is no set date for the decision to relieve the EMTs of their duties; however, the fire department will provide the city administration and council with written notification of at least two months.

In other city council business Monday:

* Lorentz cautioned residents about blowing grass clippings into the street. The city has an ordinance prohibiting the forceful moving of lawn clippings into the street where they clog the stormwater sewers and cause problems within the city.

“We are going to enforce the ordinances,” Lorentz said.

* Council passed the first reading of an ordinance to approve the plans for the city to provide natural gas aggregation.

Council previously held two public hearings and will have the second reading of the legislation during the July 22 council meeting.

Last August the city’s electric aggregation program began as provided by DPL Energy Resources and organized by Volunteer Energy, which is the city’s partner for the two energy-savings programs.

Although DPL Energy Resources offers the electric program to the city through Volunteer Energy, there will be no third party with the natural gas, as Volunteer Energy is the supplier of that resource.

Following the final reading, the project will go before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for approval. Ferguson said the final reading of the legislation will likely take place in six weeks.

The rate for the natural gas will be the New York Mercantile Exchange price plus 60 cents per 1,000 cubic foot.

In November 2011, Belpre voters passed the opt-out programs, which have the potential to save residents money if they choose to go with the city for these bills.