CLERMONT COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - Tim Suter's fighting to keep his village's firehouse.
And, it's worth the friends he thinks he could lose over it.
He's in a battle with Washington Township Trustees over a plan to sell the only fire/EMS station on his end of the township. It's not much of a battle since neither Suter, nor his village have any say over what the township can do with the firehouse.
Suter is the mayor of the Village of Moscow.
The township owns the Moscow Emergency Services building, which has sat empty since September 2011 when a leaking roof caused the township to abandon the building after mold took it over.
The Moscow station was only 15 years old at that point. The township put a new roof on the building and had the mold removed.
But, the Washington Township Emergency Services division never moved back into the 8,800 square foot facility, which sits alongside Highway 52, the heaviest-travelled highway through the township.
The mayor has tried for five years, he told FOX19 NOW, to have the township reopen the Moscow station. Suter said the township promised him on several occasions the firehouse would reopen. He found out in December during a meeting with the trustees that the station was close for business.
Suter tried, he said, to suggest other funding options, but the township, would not consider anything he presented.
"They took a route that had many options and for whatever reason just closed their eyes to all the options and took on to sell the station and move on," Suter said.
One option Suter presented was increasing the millage by a single mill to fund emergency services. The township hasn't had a millage increase since 1985. The township scoffed at the idea, Suter said.
The Moscow Emergency Services building is empty, unused and withering away today.
"You don't have the luxury of running multiple buildings if you don't have the money to operate them," Washington Township Trustees President Ron Rudd told FOX19 NOW.
The township put the Moscow station up for sale in February, asking for bids. The listed price for the building and 20 acres that go with it was $490,000. The bids were due June 15.
The township spent $1.1 million to build the building in 1996 and around another $250,000 on repairs following the 2011 mold remediation and damage from the 2012 tornado that hit Moscow.
During the June 15 trustees meeting, the township's attorney opened a single sealed envelope. In it was the only offer the township got on the building in four months: an offer of $276,000.
The first leg of the township's plan to sell off its three emergency services building took a hit.
"Do you have some concerns about getting a fair market value for this building," FOX19 NOW investigative reporter Jody Barr asked Rudd. "No. We're going to have to change the strategy somewhat," Rudd said.
"We might have put too high of a bid on it to begin with, as it was advertised," Rudd said.
THE CONSOLIDATION PLAN
A dry erase board inside the township's trustee chambers details a timeline for plans to move all the township's emergency services into a brand new, $1.6 million building. The timeline shows the move will happen February 2017.
In order to do so, the township hopes to sell off its three existing firehouses and work out of a new firehouse. The plan is to build the new headquarters across the street from the township's offices on Route 756.
The township owns three firehouses: Neville, Point Isabel and Moscow. None of the buildings are more than 22 years old. The Neville station is 17 years old, Moscow station is 19 years old and Point Isabel is the oldest at 22 years old.
The township does not have Point Isabel or Neville currently on the market, but Rudd confirmed to FOX19 NOW that plans to list the other two stations would come around the time the new station is built.
"The tax base is not there to support three stations," Rudd said.
"Will you ever get enough money back from the sale of these stations – if they sell – to fund this project," Barr asked Rudd. "Oh, I don't think so," Rudd replied.
The need to consolidate comes after two state funding cuts, Rudd argued. The cuts would put the emergency services operations in the red if the township continued to operate three stations, according to Rudd.
THE RESPONSE TIME WORRY
"Certainly down the road I can see where there's going to be complications and hopefully not loss of life by closing all three stations," Moscow Mayor Tim Suter told FOX19 NOW.
"It is where it needs to be," Suter said of the Moscow station, "The population is here."
Suter argued before the trustees on June 15 that moving the station was a mistake and would cause people on the edges of the township to have to wait longer for help to get to them in an emergency.
Suter, who was a Moscow councilmember when the Moscow station was opened in 1996, said the township has a fire study that recommends three stations in the township in order to provide a competent level of service to all who pay taxes to the township.
With three stations, Washington Township emergency services are within a three mile drive to the three farthest corners of the township. Losing Moscow, Suter worries, would put his village and the township's largest employer – the Zimmer Power Station – at risk.
"Tim, we're talking three miles. Let's get real," Rudd told Suter during the June 15 trustees meeting. Rudd was pointing out the distance from the Moscow station to the new headquarters.
Rudd argued, the new station would be centrally located in the township and would provide faster response times for most of the township.
A FOX19 NOW analysis of the distances between the new firehouse and the three corners of the township shows the distance between emergency crews and some taxpayers will triple.
We drove the routes between the current firehouses to three corners of Washington Township: Point Isabel, Neville and Moscow. Currently, the distances from those corners to the current stations are:
Moscow: 2.4 miles/3 minute drive at normal speed
Point Isabel: 1.8 miles/3 minute drive at normal speed
Neville: 1.8 miles/3 minute drive at normal speed
We analyzed the distances from the new headquarters to the same points:
Moscow: 3.5 miles/5 minute drive at normal speed
Point Isabel: 5.2 miles/8 minute drive at normal speed
Neville: 10.6 miles/13 minute drive at normal speed
"Yeah, some people might have a few more minutes because they're at the far extremes, but overall, we still give a very good service," Rudd told FOX19 NOW. Rudd also pointed out the bulk of the emergency runs do not go toward Neville or Moscow, but acknowledged Neville does provide several mutual aid runs to places that border the township.
"Does everybody need a firehouse right beside their house," Rudd questioned," I can't afford to do that."
"A fire doubles in size every two minutes," Mayor Suter argued when weighing the risks of the increased response times, "let alone the medical emergencies and how serious they can get."
The township has not investigated what the move could do to property insurance rates, Rudd confirmed during our June 15 interview. A part of the homeowner insurance rate is based off an Insurance Service Office rating commonly known as an "ISO rating."
The ISO rating is a risk assessment most insurance companies use to set the amounts a homeowner pays for insurance, mainly based off the fire service within a distance of the home. The rating assessment looks at multiple factors, among those: distance to fire stations, access to fire hydrants and the equipment and training associated with the fire service.
Rudd said he and his fire chief, Dana Kellenberger, had not discussed the matter at the time we interviewed him on June 15.
"I don't think that's responsible. People will say I'm biased because I want my fire station here," Suter said, "But, it's not being responsible with the tax dollars they' had to use to build these buildings."
"I don't think a lot of thought went into it. They've got blinders on and it's the only idea they're willing to consider," Suter said.
CAN'T FIND THE STAFF FOR THREE STATIONS
Citing AIDS risks, the risks of contracting other diseases and abnormal working schedules, Washington Township Trustee Ron Rudd told FOX19 NOW that he can't find enough people willing to work in the township's emergency services anymore.
"After 9/11, we had a rush of people wanting to get into emergency services," Rudd said, "It's not like that anymore."
The cuts in the amount of tax dollars the state sends to fund the township, coupled with scarce applicants to fill the emergency positions, was the reason Rudd said his board had no other option than to pull everything into one building.
"We're finding out – and we pay good, it's not the money – that they're looking at other jobs, they're going to other jobs, not doing this anymore," Rudd said.
The township thinks it'll have the new $1.6 million emergency services headquarters finished and in service by February 2017. The $1.6 million is an estimate and could climb higher before the project is finished.
There is no timeline set for when the township will try to relist the Moscow station or the other two stations it plans to sell.