A potential merger is being discussed for the Lawrence Township and North Lawrence fire departments.

LAWRENCE TWP.  A merger could be in the works down the line for the Lawrence Township and North Lawrence fire departments.

In a special meeting Wednesday night, Lawrence trustees met with fire officials and Tuscarawas Township officials to discuss a potential merger of the two departments, which could help solve financial problems for the North Lawrence department and ensure fire and emergency services for the entire township.

The North Lawrence agency, a private, nonprofit business, has been providing those services for the southern part of Lawrence Township via a contract. The fire department has reduced staffing because its grant money has run out, and income from its long-running bingo fundraiser has declined.

If the North Lawrence station closes, and calls in the southern part of the township were to be answered by the Lawrence Township Fire Department — from the Eugene M. Fellmeth Safety Center in Canal Fulton — the response time would be greatly increased.

“We went to be sure all township residents have the same coverage and service,” said Lawrence Township Fire Chief Mark Stewart.

Trustees and North Lawrence fire officials expressed their reluctance to move forward immediately with a merger until the specifics were written down, reviewed by attorneys, and both parties had signed all necessary documents.

In addition, Lawrence trustees were hesitant to move forward with putting an additional 2.9-mill fire levy on the November ballot to cover the cost of additional manpower at the North Lawrence Fire Station, as well as the merger until the details of the merger were spelled out.

Trustees are slated to vote at their regular Monday meeting whether or not to put the levy on the ballot.

Trustee Les Kamph suggested that trustees place the levy on the fall ballot and pull a planned levy off the ballot in September, but only if merger documents have not been written or agreed upon.

Stewart said he could have merger documents prepared by mid-September. Trustee Michael Stevens said he would be opposed, adding that if the levy does not make it to the November ballot, the next time it could appear would be in May 2019.

A slight hitch in the merger issue is the contract the North Lawrence department has with the Tuscarawas Township to provide coverage to a part of its jurisdiction.

In order to continue that coverage, Tuscarawas Township voters would have to approve a new levy raising $214,000 per year to continue fire and emergency services, if the merger between the North Lawrence and Lawrence Township Fire Departments happens.

Tuscarawas Township trustees agreed this week to ask the Stark County auditor to calculate the necessary millage to raise the funds.

Stevens made it clear that Lawrence Township would not be subsidizing fire and emergency services in Tuscarawas.

Reach The Independent newsroom at 330-775-1125 or at IndeNews@IndeOnline.com.



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