BY KATHLEEN HILLENMEYER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP -- Trustee Tom Raga could not rally the support he needed Tuesday to rescind a plan to split the Mason-Deerfield Joint Fire District. Mr. Raga proposed that the three township trustees retract a Dec. 29 resolution to form their own fire company if disagreements with Mason City Council were not resolved. But his pitch died for lack of a second after there was no sign that members of Mason City Council would agree to involve a mediator in the dispute.
Trustees were seeking assurances from city council that they would resume negotiations, which deadlocked last month. Deerfield leaders had reintroduced the idea of an outside mediator, but councilmembers suggested last week that time was running out and patience wearing thin for further talks.
"There were councilmembers who were interested in negotiations," Mr. Raga said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, we could not get a majority."
Mason councilman Bill Kidder, Jim Fox and Tom Muennich, who had voted to attempt more negotiations with trustees, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
To withdraw from the joint fire district in 1998, trustees had to pass a resolution in the previous year. Their Dec. 29 vote, according to Ohio law, allows them to split the fire department or rescind the resolution any time until Dec. 31. They aim to launch an independent fire department Sept. 30.
"We will leave the back door open to negotiation," trustee Larry Backus said Tuesday. "We just don't have time to leave the front door open anymore."
The township and the city are proposing replacement tax levies to restore tax dollars that would dry up if the joint district breaks. A 3.95-mill levy would come before Deerfield voters in August, while Mason voters would ponder a 5-mill levy.
Together, city and township residents now pay 3.95 mills for fire protection.
"We do have the power to rescind the proposed levy should an agreement (with Mason) be reached later this year," trustees told residents in a May 14 letter.
Citizens' concerns about the controversy have focused on its impact on fire and ambulance protection for 35,000 residents in Mason and Deerfield Township. The jobs of 140 firefighters also are at stake.
Trustee Bill Morand tried to assure firefighters Tuesday there will be enough jobs to keep them employed. "Employment opportunities for the current fire company should be viewed as positive, because they will exist," he said.
Disagreements with Mason over annexations and other issues have undermined trustees' trust in city council.