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Dept heads identify future needs

Hermitage Fire Chief John Flynn can envision a much different fire service in the future than what is provided today.

Speaking March 15 at a focus group meeting with city department heads as part of the Hermitage Comprehensive Plan information gathering process, Flynn said the city might be forced to add paid staff -- both to maintain its current level of service and to help the fire service do more.

Hermitage has a mostly-volunteer fire department – only Flynn and Assistant Chief Jim Reda are paid – but it is getting increasingly difficult to attract volunteers to the department, and to get them to respond during a workday, he said. Many other local volunteer departments are “hanging by a thread,” he said, which could put pressure on Hermitage’s department to leave its borders more frequently.

Flynn said he also could see a day when the department offers emergency medical service as it becomes more difficult for private ambulance services to remain profitable.

Flynn stressed that he is not pushing for any of these changes, but events might push the city.

“We want to keep this thing volunteer for as long as possible,” Flynn said.

Police Chief Eric Jewell also could foresee the need for a much different structure in his department.

“We get by,” he said of the department staff, which includes 21 patrol officers, nine detectives and command staff, and three civilians. “As the city grows and crime gets more complicated, … the need for more staff is there, now.”

Increased state demands for recordkeeping and training will require more managerial oversight, Jewell said, and he would like to have a policeman at the station to handle walk-ins, fingerprint requests and similar duties; a second cop posted in the schools; and another officer devoted to investigations.

Jewell recognized the importance of quality of life concerns, such as recreation, and the importance of jobs within a community.

“But, if you don’t have a safe community, they’re going to live elsewhere and drive to your town,” Jewell said.

Other department heads also spoke of expected increased demands for city services. City Engineering Manager Don Kizak said the city has committed significant money and effort to improving streets and storm drainage, but it “seems like it’s never enough.” Water Pollution Control Plant Superintendent Tom Darby said the east side of the city is in “dire need of sewers.” And Rachael Manuel, who works in finance and technical administration, said it is getting harder to keep up on computer hardware, software, security and licensing issues.

The city has expanded its recreational offerings significantly since the last Hermitage Comprehensive Plan was approved in 1993, and recreation remains a focus. Facilities Coordinator Neil Hosick and Recreation Director Ed Chess said they have talked about what it would take to build a bicycle or skate park, outdoor basketball courts and an indoor recreation facility. Chess added that he would like the city to increase its partnerships with Buhl Park, Buhl Community Recreation Center in Sharon, Hermitage School District and Shenango Valley YMCA to offer more services to city residents while using existing facilities.

Outside of their respective departments, the employees gave their wish lists for the city, which included a concert venue, a convention center, “trendy” housing for young adults, a satellite branch of the Community Library of the Shenango Valley, and a city-wide wireless fidelity network, so anyone in the city limits can get internet access.

City Manager Gary Hinkson thanked the department heads for their comments, their frankness and their commitment to the city.

“This shows us we’ve got challenges ahead of us,” said City Manager Gary Hinkson.

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