Stalemated fire talks threaten accord

By David J. Coehrs -

Archbold’s Finance Committee last week discussed whether to make a final offer to German Township trustees to buy the fire equipment used within their shared service agreement.

The village says the proposed equipment purchase is at the heart of a stalemate in negotiations between the village and the trustees that has left the future of their fire contract in limbo. Should talks between them ultimately fail, the village would be forced to spend $2 million on new fire equipment, and the contract, set to expire in January, would likely not be renewed.

But a German Township trustee said the real acrimony stems from the village revising a proposed new fire agreement so that it significantly lessens the amount of time the village would offer the township fire protection.

Administrator Donna Dettling said last week she didn’t anticipate that the council would act Monday on the village’s proposed $537,000 purchase offer of the fire equipment, which the township owns. She said she won’t send the township trustees the offer until and unless the council agrees.

The purchase would include a tower, two engines, hose and brush trucks, a tanker, and half a dozen miscellaneous items.

The Finance Committee met last week to discuss the final purchase offer but made no decision. Instead, the members recommended the village make the offer.

The committee members also talked about Archbold’s ongoing efforts to consolidate fire operations, maintenance, and capital needs under a village umbrella.

Dettling said German Township trustees were warming to that idea until the village suggested buying the township’s fire equipment.

In fact, she said, in anticipation of consolidating fire services the trustees have proceeded in good faith with plans to place a 2-mill, all-inclusive fire levy worth approximately $373,000 annually on the November ballot. Should it pass, the trustees have pledged to request that the county auditor stop collecting on the current five-year, 1.1-mill fire levy worth $181,000 annually.

Archbold has proposed that the township turn all of the 2-mill levy revenue over to the village in return for fire service. Dettling said that’s because in the present arrangement, which dates back at least 27 years, village residents pay three to four times more in taxes than rural residents for identical fire service. They also pay on a 0.5-mill levy for fire expenses.

“Village residents have definitely paid the lion’s share for service,” Dettling said.

Of the money the 2-mill levy would generate each year, the village would divide the revenue so that the incorporated area of German Township contributes about $237,000, and the unincorporated area about $135,000.

“The village has done a really good job in operating and maintaining the fire department. I’m confident the $237,000 will take are of all our needs,” Dettling said.

She said the village’s proposed new agreement “was absolutely a package deal from the beginning.”

But despite negotiations that have dragged on since 2016, the township refuses to sell the equipment, and that threatens both the proposed agreement and the current fire contract, which is set to expire Jan. 14, Dettling said. It would also force Archbold to purchase new fire equipment at a cost between $1.6-$2 million.

“Council doesn’t want to pay $2 million for new equipment. They feel they’ve been put in a corner,” she said. “(The township) won’t budge on the equipment thing. We have been negotiating for over a year, and it has gone back and forth so many times, with countless offers. This notion that council could pull the trigger on spending money for new equipment is frustrating.”

German Township Trustee Randy Ruffer said he’s stymied by the village’s negotiation tactics. He said in discussions the village presented the township with three issues it has regarding the fire department: the need for more efficiency, the need for one entity to handle all aspects of the service, and the village’s displeasure with a continued working relationship with the township.

In reply, Ruffer said, “We made it very clear we’re not a boss. We’ve not told them what to do. They also said they could run it more efficiently but they cannot give us a problem with how it’s run now. Right now, to our knowledge, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way the fire department is operated, so we’ve approached (negotiations) that way.”

He disagreed with Dettling’s assertion that the township refuses to sell the fire equipment. In fact, he said, the township forged an agreement with the village last October to give it the equipment and a majority of the revenue from the 1.1-mill levy in exchange for 30 years of fire protection. The following January, the township sweetened the deal by offering the equipment and all of the levy revenue.

Ruffer said the village agreed to, then backed out of both versions of the deal, then revised the proposal: The township would place the 2-mill levy on the ballot, and the village would take all of the equipment and all of the money and guarantee five years’ protection instead of 30 years.

“Somewhere along the line they want to dictate how much they’ll charge for fire protection,” he said. “We’re not satisfied with that. We feel we’ve made a big sacrifice just offering the equipment to them.”

Ruffer said the village has threatened to withdraw from the fire contract if terms are not met.

“I want to get it resolved,” he said. “We feel like they’re just trying to one-up on us. We’re trying to look out for the whole community and make sure it’s fair.”

Dettling said for now the future of the village-township fire agreement remains in limbo. She said, however, the stalemate could end if the November election produces new township trustees.

“I really believe that, (with) what happens with the election, that dynamic could change,” she said.

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.