duplex fire 2

Mansfield firefighters spray water into a porch roof on Wednesday afternoon while battling a duplex house fire on West First Street in 2019. (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD --  Moments after Mansfield City Council approved more than $1 million in COVID-19 relief dollars for police and fire department payroll, Safety-Service Director Lori Cope offered a sobering reminder of the dangers faced by first responders.

"We have 11 firefighters off right now, either for testing positive for COVID-19 or being quarantined for working closely with those firefighters," Cope told council members Tuesday night after they concluded their three-hour meeting by approving a total of $1,679,230 in federal CARES Act funds.

Cope said firefighters have taken every protection possible in response to the pandemic that reached Ohio in March.

"Yet, it still happens," she said. "Please keep them in your prayers tonight and know we are doing all we can to be aware of the (city) budget and still serve our citizens."

The CARES Act expenditures council approved included $551,975 for fire department payroll and $519,290 for police department payroll, dating back to March 1. Richland County commissioners took a similar action last month, appropriating $2.5 million for payroll in the sheriff's department and jail.

The payroll expenditure was not in the original plans for usage in the city's third round of CARES Act funds, a plan emailed to council members and local media outlets on Friday.

However, Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker said city officials, including Finance Director Linn Steward, have since learned payroll was an appropriate usage for the funds recently released by the state. In the three rounds of funding, Mansfield has received a total of about $4.2 million.

"Everybody has been working hard, especially in the finance and law departments, to get all of these rounds in place and tracked and purchases and everything," Theaker said. "I want to commend everyone."

After the online council meeting ended, Cope said two paramedics had tested positive for COVID-19 and nine other department members were in quarantine since they live and work together closely. She said fire Chief Steve Strickling informed her earlier Tuesday evening.

Cope said firefighters/paramedics take every possible precaution and have no idea where they may have contracted the virus.

"When we transport a COVID-19 positive patient, the paramedics shower right at the hospital," she said, "and they decontaminate their squads. They are out of service for two and two-and-a-half hours and then get ready for the next run."

She said the two who tested positive on Friday experienced symptoms when they arrived for an out-of-state hunting trip and remain there now while being treated. Cope said two other firefighters/paramedics began experiencing loss of taste and smell on Tuesday.

The 11 firefighters/paramedics make up about 12 percent of the MFD's workforce. Cope said she will meet with Strickling on Wednesday to go over coverage plans, which will include increased mutual aid from other area departments, as well as increased overtime.

Cope said she cannot help but think the additional transport of inmates from Richland Correctional Institution and Mansfield Correctional Institution have added additional threats to the paramedics.

"We have been transporting since March, but the prisons just recently flared up," she said.

Two of the other big-ticket items approved in the CARES Act were another $200,000 to the Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Fund being administered by the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, and $57,000 to the Salvation Army to assist residents with rent, electric and gas payments.

Also on Tuesday, City Council:

-- approved the demolition of houses at 91 Greenwood Ave., 111 Orchard St., 113-115 Willow St., 181 S. Adams St., 258 Remy Ave., 276 Sheridan Ave., 288 W. Fourth St., 368 Seventh Ave., 481 Dirlam Court and 590 Harold Ave.

-- approved  paying $176,240.28 to Mark Schaffer Excavating and Trucking, Inc., for rehabilitating/reconstructing two taxiways at Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport. The city's portion is $8,812 with the Federal Aviation Administration paying the rest.

-- approved creating a capital projects fun, titled Water Treatment Plant Improvement Fund, to account for bond funds necessary for a water treatment plant project.

-- approved spending $14,271 to purchase a 2019 Jeep Compass from Spitzer Motors for the finance department's tax collection office. The deal includes $8,500 on the trade-in of a 2014 Ford Explorer.

-- approved $5,300 for a 2020 Suzuki outboard marine motor for use by the water treatment plant at the Clearfork Reservoir.

-- approved a change to the city's ordinances that will allow water service lines to be made of material other than copper.

-- voted to authorize the public works director to apply for state grant funds for storm sewer installations along Taylor Road, Manchester Road, Barnard Avenue and Coleman Road.

-- voted to authorize to allow the Richland County Growth Corporation to sell for $1 about 15 acres of undeveloped land in the vicinity of Airport West Road to Adena Development, LLC.  Adena plans to construct a 160,000-square foot spec building it will then market it for sale or lease.

-- voted to authorize to allow the mayor and public works director to enter into a community reinvestment area agreement with with KJBS and K.S. McCartney Associates, Inc. It will allow property tax incentives for the company to renovate and expand their existing facility at 52 N. Diamond St. The agreement calls for a 2,400-square foot addition to the existing 4,800-square foot facility and a 6,000-square foot garage/maintenance facility east of the current facility. The project will involve a total building investment of about $1.3 million and $100,000 investment in new furniture and fixtures, as well as additional new payroll. As part of the project, KJBS, LLC, will pay the Mansfield City School District $15,597 for each year it receives the property tax abatement.

-- voted to authorize the mayor and public works director to enter into a community reinvestment area agreement with One Foundation Properties, LTD, and Hess Industries, LTD. It will create property tax abatements to allow the company to renovate and expand their facilities at 108 Sawyer Parkway. One Foundation will add a 7,200-square foot addition to its existing 12,000-square foot facility, a $350,000 building investment and $60,000 in new machinery and equipment, as well as additional payroll. As part of the project, One Foundation Properties, LTD, will pay the Madison Local School District $3,905 for each year it receives the property tax abatement.

-- voted to authorize the mayor and public works director to enter into a community reinvestment area agreement with 4 Life Investments, an Indiana-based company, for property tax abatements to expand its existing facility at 424 Springmill St. The company plans a 500-square foot addition to its existing 2,500-square foot facility. The project will have a building investment of about $324,000 and $155,000 investment in new furniture, fixtures, equipment and inventory. It will also create an additional 21 jobs. The company will pay the Mansfield City School District $3,888 annually during the lifetime of the tax abatements.

-- voted to approve an amended agreement with Debt Recovery Solutions to work as a third-party debt collector for the City of Mansfield to pursue delinquent water and sewer accounts.

-- provided second reading to a resolution in support of the city parks' master plan.

-- provided second reading on a proposal to transfer 10 city parks properties to the Richland County Land Bank.

-- voted on resolutions honoring the retirement of two long-time finance department employees -- confidential accountant Michael Schwarmberger and administrative assistant Debra Keller.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"