Mayor Jeff Martin signed the paperwork needed to officially consolidate the township’s fire districts into the Hamilton Township Fire Division last month, effective Jan. 1, 2021.
After five years of effort, there are no expected stumbling blocks remaining after Martin gave the OK to the required ordinances and memorandum of agreements at a ceremony Oct. 13. Consolidation will save the township roughly $1.5 million a year, Martin said.
“We are going full steam ahead for January 1,” Martin said.
Under the current structure, Hamiltonians receive fire service from one of nine, autonomous fire districts. Each of the nine districts is governed by five elected commissioners and have their own individual budgets. With the signing of the ordinances, all nine districts will be consolidated and become part of a newly formed Hamilton Township Fire Division funded by municipal taxes.
The Department of Community Affairs’ Local Finance Board previously approved the fire service consolidation on Sept. 9 by a unanimous vote. Council approved the ordinances by a unanimous vote Oct. 6.
Martin also signed Memorandums of Agreement between the Township of Hamilton and fire unions Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association Locals 84 and 284 Oct. 13.
Now, all that’s left are many formalities and details that will take a lot of time but aren’t necessarily as contentious as the negotiations and procedures that have passed already, Martin said.
The next step is coordination with the Civil Service Commission for organizational transfer of all current district firefighters to be employees of Hamilton Township. Staffing levels will remain the same, Martin said, with no one losing a job. All the firehouses will remain open, as well.
On the township end, Martin said his administration has weekly meetings to ensure the consolidation process remains on track, and to decide which tasks must be finished before the new year and what can wait until after the new fire division opens officially.
Many of the items are necessary details like IT uniformity and entering district employees into the payroll and health benefits system. Currently, each fire district handles payroll for their own employees. The fire districts have a different insurance company than the township. Now, that all will have to be reconciled.
The township also must find and create office space for Chief Richard Kraemer and his staff at one of the township’s eight firehouses. Martin said currently four of the eight are owned by the fire districts, while volunteer fire companies own the other half. The district-owned firehouses will become township property on Jan. 1, 2021. One of those four—Districts No. 2, 3, 4, or 9—will be the likely landing spot for Kraemer.
Less urgent things, like new business cards, could be handled sometime in 2021.
For the average Hamilton resident, very little should change as far as fire service goes once consolidation takes hold in 2021. Residents will see a change in their tax bill, though. The fire district tax line will be eliminated in 2021, and fire service will be bundled into the municipal tax rate.
Since it is a municipal division, fire service will cost the same across the township. Currently, every fire district charges its ratepayers a different amount, meaning that some Hamilton residents have been paying more for fire service than others.