ELDORADO — Following the resignation of former Fire Chief Tom Evans and most of the department’s firefighters, in early January, the Eldorado Fire Department has a new chief.
Marlon Hart was sworn into the position during a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 30. As of that meeting, the department is staffed with five individuals, including Hart.
According to Eldorado Mayor Tiana White, the situation began with a discussion on a possible fire department merger with West Manchester. The topic has been in discussion since 2015, but in 2018 the merger seemed imminent.
The main advocate for the merger was West Manchester Fire Chief Dale Baker.
“If I remember correctly, his reasoning for the merger was because both of the departments are small in size, as far as the volunteers we have. Eldorado and West Manchester are only five miles apart and it is not financially smart to duplicate equipment and services, when we are that close together. The idea, I understood in the beginning, was that a merger would help with manpower, we would not have to duplicate equipment, and it would save the fire chiefs hours of paperwork,” White said.
In 2018, the departments began hosting more meetings on the merger. In the beginning, the merger was just going to be the two fire departments, but along the way the rescue squad was included. Village council began asking township trustees and a representative from the rescue squad board to attend meetings.
According to White, at first they were all not in support of the plan, but eventually came on board.
Both councils and the township agreed to hire an attorney out of Cincinnati to prepare paperwork, including contracts and resolutions. After making changes to the prepared paperwork, it was proposed by a formed committee the villages move forward with the merger in 2019.
The committee consisted of: Chief Baker, Mayor White, a representative from West Manchester, and a rescue squad representative.
The issue was brought before Eldorado Village Council in December.
Council voted to not sign the merger contract.
“They thought it was being pushed too quickly and wanted more time to consider it,” White said. “They said they would continue looking at the merger, but were not willing to sign the papers. At the beginning of January, we had a meeting of our council, a few of West Manchester council, one of the township trustees, and one of the Rescue Squad Board Members to once again talk about the merger.
“My council was the only one who had not signed the contract. We wanted to talk about what was holding my council back, to see if we could keep the merger talks moving. They had two main concerns. One is, when you merge, you not only give your equipment, but also your finances. At this time, there is a discrepancy between the two villages’ finances.
“The way we are looking at it, Eldorado is bringing more money to the table. West Manchester has a loan out on a piece of equipment. Originally, we were told the loan could be transferred to the new group, but they found out just a week ago that could be an issue. There is some concerns about how the loan is going to be paid off. They are offering property. They are offering to give their fire department building to the merger.
“The other concern my council has is bringing in the rescue squad. Right now, the rescue squad is North Central Rescue Squad and they have their own levy. Our concern is, if they join, it is our understanding that they will lose their levy money. We were trying to see if there was a way to do it, so we would be together, but they’re not going to lose their levy money until we find out how this new group can be financed.”
After the meeting on Jan. 9, council asked Mayor White to discuss the issue with Village Solicitor Richard Faber.
Faber’s official response noted, “The Eldorado Village Council made the correct decision in voting no when the disparity became fully known, because there is no protection for Eldorado once a six-digit sum of money is transferred to a joint district, then gets spent and/or used to liquidate joint district debt passed to the joint district by West Manchester, and then the joint district goes under when a levy fails to pass.
“Currently, the best legal option for Eldorado is to walk away and continue with business as usual.
“A functional joint EMS district already exists and should be kept separate from any joint Fire District that would or could be on shaky financial ground — it would be disastrous if due to increased personnel and capital improvement costs that both fire and EMS services went under,” Faber continued.
“A joint fire district (separate from the joint EMS district) might be possible, but not necessarily advisable,” he continued. “If a joint fire district was created, it should have two and only two 2019 calendar year functions: to place a permanent levy with agreed upon millage on the ballot at the November 2019, General Election and to operate the joint fire district for the balance of calendar year 2019, by means of entering into business as usual contracts with Eldorado, West Manchester, and Monroe Township.
“Vehicles, real estate, equipment cash funds, debt, etc., would not transfer to the join fire district during calendar year 2019. If the levy fails at the November 2019, General Election, the joint fire district would dissolve at the end of calendar year 2019. If the levy passes, then an agreed format for transfer of vehicles, real estate, equipment, cash funds, debt, etc., along with the repeal of existing fire levies, could begin as early as calendar year 2020.”
White presented the letter to her council and asked members to discuss their next moves. According to White, a comment was made from the audience that if council did the merger without the rescue squad, the two fire departments would not be in support of it. At that point in time, council decided not to move forward with the merger.
After that motion was made, White was presented with a letter from the fire chief stating he and several members of the fire department were resigning.
“Due to recent actions by the council of the Village of Eldorado, it is the overwhelming opinion of the members of the Eldorado Fire Department that there is no regard for the needs and opinions of the membership, thus making it hard to effectively perform the tasks of the position of firefighter,” Tom Evans wrote.
“Furthermore we feel that the council has not acted in the best interest of the village and Monroe Township, of which we are contracted to provide the best fire protection available by following standards set forth by NFPA and the State of Ohio, by refusing to supply the department with adequate, updated equipment.
“Council and Mayor have repeatedly excluded the membership, including the fire chief, from meetings and information that should be shared with the membership as it affects the department directly. Therefore, effective midnight Jan. 31, 2019, the only active members of the department, listed below, and signing this letter of their own free will, hereby resign from the Village of Eldorado Fire Department.”
White added, she had been aware of the possibility and had informed her council. They reached out to former Fire Chief Hart to ask if he would be willing to step in if Evans did resign. Hart was sworn into the position during the meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 30. Two applications for firefighters were also accepted during the meeting.
“We are a small department to start with. A lot of the times during the day, we only had one or two members available. Right now, we don’t have any members available during the workday. During work nights and weekends, we do have people to respond. Obviously, it is not a full crew right now and we are hoping to add more, but we are and have been for several years dual dispatched with West Manchester,” White said.
“I do believe there has been misinformation. I am sorry that the merger has not been as smooth as some people thought it would be. Our village council is responsible for financially and otherwise supporting our residents and our tax payers. I am sorry that some of our department members feel that they have not been supported, if any of them want to speak at one of our council meetings, they need to call our office and let us know and we will be happy to hear what they have to say.”
As for whether council would be willing to look at a merger in the future, White says she believes they would be.
“In my mind, the merger is not dead, but I feel it needs to be talked about and led through the legislative body and not led by a firefighter,” White said. “They obviously need to understand and hopefully be willing to accept the merger, but I think it is a legislative decision and it is something we need to drive, rather than doing it the way we have done it.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH