Section: News

Continued debate over Fire Department merger intensifies

During its Feb. 10 public meeting, College Township Fire Department (CTFD) trustees approved a motion to continue negotiations with the Mount Vernon Fire Department (MVFD) regarding a proposed merger of the two departments. Roughly 30 people were present, the majority of whom attended in person. 

According to Township Trustee Barry Bowden, MVFD formally presented its proposal to CTFD in January, roughly three months after CFTD first introduced the idea of a merger. These negotiations are the culmination of years of increasing financial struggles for CFTD, which, by last fall, left both the Department’s budget and staff more thinly stretched than ever. Last week’s motion does not, by any means, rectify the situation; rather, it only gives the trustees grounds to consider the proposal’s potential implications.

In October, the Village Council voted unanimously to support an emergency tax levy that would temporarily keep CTFD afloat. Come Election Day, the Village voted in favor of the levy, garnering support from 81% of voters. Whether the initial conversation about the merger occurred before or after this vote, however, is unclear.

Though the trustees seemed to believe that they had been transparent about the proposal, attendees’ reactions during the meeting suggested otherwise. Many CTFD volunteers and workers said they had not been informed of the possible absorption until recently. One volunteer was especially upset that he had only learned of the proposal after reading the Collegian’s coverage of the Village Council’s February meeting, during which Councilmember Liz Forman ’73 discussed the matter.

To address these frustrations, the trustees plan to hold a public forum on the proposal in the coming weeks. 

This tension did not fade from view. Several volunteers and workers — Kenyon students and community members alike — vehemently disagreed with Forman’s positive portrayal of the proposal and expressed concerns that operating out of MVFD’s station on West Gambier Street would slow response times in the Village. In the past, such discussions have called the future of CTFD’s student program into question. 

CTFD volunteer Melissa Nixon ’23 asked why the College has not been called on to help lift the Department from its financial hole, citing Kenyon’s $413-million endowment. The trustees responded that, although they have kept the College up to date on CTFD’s financial constraints, they have not explicitly asked Kenyon for support beyond its $148,000 annual contribution. 

Still, according to Bowden, Vice President for Facilities, Planning and Sustainability Ian Smith has questioned whether such a contribution would be the College’s last, given the Department’s lack of consistent funding. CTFD would need roughly half a million dollars to keep its doors open.

But for now, the ball is in Kenyon’s court. “At the end of the day, this is going to be Kenyon’s choice, because they’re the only ones with the money here,” Village resident George Kopscick said. 

The trustees said they hope to hear whether the College will provide additional financial support within the next four to five weeks. 

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