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Fire consolidation, tax issues among the top stories of 2016

By Mike Lesko | Reporter Published: January 4, 2017 12:00 AM
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Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series featuring the year's top stories in Nordonia Hills.

Township fire substations staffed

Nordonia Hills -- Macedonia firefighters began staffing fire department substations Sept. 16 after the Northfield Center-Sagamore Hills Fire District disbanded Sept. 14. Sagamore Hills Township forced the district to close after agreeing to contract with Macedonia for fire service earlier this year.

Northfield Center voters in August turned down a 6-mill levy meant to resurrect the Northfield Center Fire Department, and Northfield Center Trustees agreed to contract with Macedonia as well.

With the new substations open, the Macedonia Fire Department wrapped up the year with equipment checks and hiring in the wake of its expansion of services. The city still planned to hire two more new full-time firefighter/paramedics and about 10-12 part-timers, after a new full-timer was approved Dec. 8 by Macedonia City Council.

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When the new hiring is completed, the department will have 24 full-timers, and Fire Chief Tim Black wants about 35 part-timers, up from the current 20. The department had 15 full-timers before Macedonia firefighters began staffing the Sagamore Hills Township station.

Sagamore Hills Township signed a contract with Macedonia for fire service at a cost of $750,000 annually for staffing and is operating out of a building at Sagamore Hills Park, while Northfield Center Township worked out a $375,000 a year deal with Macedonia for staffing and still operates out of the fire station on Route 82 just west of the five-way Olde Eight/Brandywine Road intersection.

The firefighter/paramedics are divided between the three locations. At the Macedonia fire station, there are often five and no less than the minimum of four firefighters on duty, Black said, while the minimum of two firefighters at the Sagamore Hills Township and Northfield Center Township stations is normal. That is in addition to the fire chief, captain and fire inspector on duty during the day at the Macedonia station.

More students get Chromebooks

Nordonia Hills -- The 1:1 Chromebook initiative, which puts a computer into the hands of each student in the district, expanded to 2,900 students this school year, up from 1,100 last year.

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School started Aug. 25 and students flocked in to pick up their assigned laptop computers, with high schoolers and third- and fourth-graders getting their first Chromebooks this year. The program started last school year with students in fifth- through eighth-grade.

Nordonia High School Principal Casey Wright said students have used Chromebooks at the high school before but this will be the first year each student will have their own to work with. He added teachers are excited to put them to use.

"For more than two years now, our teachers have been given professional development on how to best utilize these Chromebooks," Wright said.

Superintendent Joe Clark said the teachers who used the computers last school year have been very helpful with training the teachers who are just beginning to use them.

"It was really cool to walk around the district, into the classroom and see the entire class working on their computers," Clark said. "The kids responded great to it."

He said while teachers and students are making good use of the laptops, he wants parents to know the computers are not "taking over everything."

"The most important part of the classroom is still the direct instruction from the teachers," Clark said. "Our teachers are trained when is a good time to use them."

Rushwood Elementary Prinicipal Jacqueline O'Mara said students and teachers are excited about receiving Chromebooks this year.

"Our goal is to develop 21st Century learners and prepare kids for the future," she said.

Northfield Village Police Chief Wentz decides to retire

Northfield Village -- Police Chief Mark Wentz, who had been on paid administrative leave since Oct. 5, resigned and retired after he was suspended indefinitely with pay by Mayor Jesse Nehez because of Wentz's alleged actions at the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park.

In his Nov. 3 resignation letter, Wentz said after serving nearly 40 years as a police officer, including more than 15 years in Northfield Village, he made the decision to retire, effective Dec. 31.

"I have accomplished everything I set out do to," he wrote.

Nehez notified Wentz of the suspension in an Oct. 5 letter.

Wentz could not be reached for comment. Police Lt. Jamie Mackie is in charge of the department while the village seeks applicants to fill Wentz's post.

Law Director Brad Bryan told the News Leader that there are no charges against Wentz. He said the current incident is related to an on Aug. 25, 2015 incident, where Wentz had been suspended without pay for two days after Wentz asked members of the band ZZ Top to sign a picture while he was backstage working as off-duty security at the Hard Rock Live.

The Nov. 12, 2015, suspension letter Nehez wrote states Wentz had been advised in 2014 by the chairman of the Hard Rock that police/fire personnel should not request autographs at concerts.

"You are once again directed to refrain from requesting any pictures, autographs or similar items from any acts performing at the Hard Rock Rocksino / Northfield Park unless they are made in advance in writing, are for a charitable cause and are specifically approved by me and an authorized representative from the Rocksino in advance," Nehez wrote.

Wentz was hired by the village in 2001.

Macedonia leaders seek solutions after tax issues fail

Macedonia -- City Council members spent part of the holiday season trying to come up with solutions to the city's money problems following two income tax failures on the Nov. 8 election ballot.

"Put your ideas together," Councilor Jan Tulley, finance committee chairperson, told fellow Council members at the Dec. 1 finance committee meeting.

She said fellow Councilors should send her their proposals for how to address the city's financial needs, adding she would bring the list of proposals up for discussion next month without identifying who made which proposal.

Tulley said she also hopes residents will submit ideas to her that will help out the city financially. So does Mayor Joe Migliorini.

"I am certainly hoping for any suggestions," he said. "There are no easy answers to the problems the city is facing. If people have a good idea, send in an email, a text, click on any of the council members (online) and send it forward. I want to know people's ideas on how we should proceed in the future."

Council members set aside Jan. 10 and 24, tentatively at 6 p.m., for special finance committee meetings at City Hall to discuss the city's financial situation.

The two levies that failed are:

Issue 18, an additional .25 percent income tax increase for 10 years that would have gone for road replacement/repair and open ditch restoration, was defeated by a 57 percent margin, 3,837 votes to 2,816 votes.

Issue 19, the continuation of the .25 percent income tax level for the city's parks and recreation for 20 years, was defeated by a 51 percent margin, 3,442 votes to 3,254 votes.

Migliorini, along with Tulley and Councilors Nick Molnar and Kevin Bilke, supported the two tax issues.

Migliorini said there will be enough money to operate the recreation center through 2017, "but we'll have a $400,000 deficit for the rec center in 2018."

He said with no levy approval for road projects, "we won't be able to support upgrades to the roads."

"The residents of this city will suffer," he said. "We won't be able to maintain our streets. There are blight conditions on some roads. Valley View Road is in bad shape. Many of the streets are in horrible condition. Where will the money come from?"

Councilors Sylvia Hanneken and David Engle, who opposed the two issues, have said they feel the city has not explored all options.

"As a Council, instead of doing a lot of hand wringing, we need to sit down, look at our carryover and look at where we want to maintain our capital flow," Hanneken said. "We need to have a very serious discussion about what our priorities are."

Engle said, "I agree the city runs on a tight budget, but I also think the city should attempt to live within its means. We've wasted a year arguing whether there was a need for new taxes when we should have been fixing roads. The city is going to be ending the year with a $1.5 million carryover in the general fund. We should use some of that money to fix roads rather than to argue about taxes."

Contaminant at fire substation not human urine

Northfield Center -- A substance that closed the Northfield Center Township fire substation in September was not human urine, as had been previously thought, Summit County sheriff's investigators determined. The contaminant, which inspectors said was not toxic, is still undetermined. Cleaning up after the contamination, plus other vandalism at the fire substation, caused $10,000 worth of damage.

"We submitted the evidence to the lab, and we determined it was not human urine," Bill Holland, an inspector with the Summit County Sheriff's Department, said Nov. 28.

Holland said the contaminant was "not toxic," but investigators still have not determined what it was. There is no DNA evidence.

"We can only speculate," he said.

Holland said Nov. 28 there is no information available on when the investigation will be completed.

The fire substation closed Sept. 19 due to the vandalism, and Macedonia firefighters found what they thought at the time was urine in and on turnout gear, on the mattresses and floor in the fire station.

The substation was closed "for 1-2 days, then it was back up and running," said Northfield Center Trustee Paul Buescher.

"We replaced mattresses," he said. "The clean-up was massive. At the time, we thought somebody peed on the carpet, beds and walls. Now, they don't know what it was. The bottom line is, we're out $10,000. We don't know yet if insurance will cover this or if it will come out of our own pockets. How would you feel if you put your feet in a pair of boots and you felt moisture, then you found out it was all over? It was really disgusting. I want to see the people who did that in jail. They just broke in and left."

Mike Lesko: 330-541-9432

mlesko@recordpub.com

https://twitter.com/thenewsleader

www.facebook.com/RPCNewsLeader


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