2007-02-24 / News

Village/township deal for 24/7 coverage at risk

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - Village officials are concerned that an agreement reached with Walnut Township Trustees last month to fund the Millersport Fire Department to provide 24/7 onduty coverage may be coming undone.

After considerable discussion at their January 23 meeting, trustees unanimously agreed to give Millersport 65 percent of the "fire levy money" with the final contract wording contingent on the approval of the county prosecutor's office.The department had been receiving 65 percent of the township's three one-mill firelevies. That was enough for the department to provide 10 hour a day, seven days a week on-duty coverage.

Voters were asked last Novembe r to approve a n additional three mill permanent levy to provide 24/7 on-duty coverage. When that levy was narrowly approved, Millersport went to 24/7 coverage on January 1. Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates, with the concurrence of village officials, told trustees that coverage would have to be cut back to 10/7 effective Feb. 1 if they didn't get a commitment for the additional funding. Millersport wanted more than the "head nod" they got from Trustees Sonny Dupler and Wally Gabriel in December.

Now four weeks later, village officials haven't seen any contract language from the township. Their concerns about the agreement have been fueled by a letter from all three trustees printed in the Town Crier and the minutes from a January 25 special meeting of the Village of Thurston Council. The letter repeated Dupler's claims that Walnut Township residents are complaining about Millersport's "excess spending" without giving any details or examples. The letter adds that these concerns have prompted trustees to seek a budget from the department and "a hope" that they can have "some control of the funds."

According to the Village of Thurston council minutes, the special meeting was called to discuss the future of the Thurston-Walnut Township Fire Department's "control and the contract between the Walnut Township Trustees and the Village." Trustees Ralph Zollinger and Dupler were present.

Yates and Millersport officials believe trustees may have violated the Sunshine Law by not publicly noticing their participation in a special meeting with Thurston Council. The minutes clearly show that both trustees were involved in the discussions, with Dupler discussing specific contract terms. Trustees didn't mention the January 25 special meeting during their January 23 regular meeting. One sentence in the minutes - "Sonny asked if Thurston Fire wanted Medic 631 that Millersport Fire currently has." - particularly angered Millersport officials. Several council members pointed out that Millersport owns that medic and that Dupler has no authority to give it to another department.

With that background, Yates told council members Tuesday night that there is nothing in writing. He added that he heard that trustees have turned to outside counsel, rather than the county prosecutor's office,to draft a new contract. "I have my doubts about our trustees," he added.

The letter from trustees drew sharp rebukes. "This is going to kill future levies," council member Gary Matheny said. "The problem we have is with our trustees," council member Dave Levacy added. "I believe their motivation is control. You can't have two people in charge."

"I was extremely disappointed in the letter," council member Charles Mesko said. "It is a complete distortion of the facts. I view it as a real slap in the face to our firedepartment."

Matheny said he asked Gabriel whether he actually signed off on the letter. He got a "no" from Gabriel, but Dupler told Mesko all three trustees were on board. Several council members noted that Gabriel hadn't taken any steps to disassociate himself from the letter.

After considerable discussion, village officials decided to make a brief statement to trustees. Mayor Dean Severance and all six council members signed the following statement: We, the undersigned mayor and council members of the Village of Millersport, on the 20th day of February 2007, do voice our collective opposition to any and all efforts to alter the operation of the Millersport Fire Department by Walnut Township. The statement was delivered to all three trustees Wednesday.

Village official decided to wait until after trustees' February 27 meeting before taking any additional action. Several council members plan to attend that meeting as observors.

In other business Tuesday night, council members agreed to discount family pool memberships if they are bought early. Family pool memberships are unchanged at $175. If purchased by April 1, the cost is $125. Purchases between April 1 and May 1 are $150. After May 1, the cost is the full $175.

Council's Safety Committee met for an hour before the council meeting. The village plans to take applications through March for paid parttime police officersthat will be funded by the police levy voters approved last year. "We want to take baby steps," Matheny said. "Our first concern is finding qualified officers." The village hopes to findthree to four part-time officersto supplement the part-time chief's hours. They would like to have the new officerson the street by May 1. The objective is to add 2,000 coverage hours this year.

There will be more officercoverage during the summer, Matheny said. Set schedules will be avoided. He added that the village is cracking down on operation of quad runners or ATVs on village streets. Violators will be charged by police.

Michael Carder, president of GGC Engineers Inc., updated members on the water treatment plant project. The firmhas a construction observer on site. Construction is running behind due to the weather. The contractor, Crace Construction, is moving to 10 hour days, four days a week with eight hours on the fifth day. The raw and finish water lines to the new plant have been installed. Excavation for the clear wells and the footers began this week.

Carder said a pump test of one of the two new wells went very well. The pumping rate exceeded expectations. "You are blessed," he said, noting that groundwater resources are very spotty in this area.

Carder asked for an additional $2,750 to complete the sewer collection and capacity study. Most of the additional money is to cover meetings and informational requests about possible connection to the Buckeye Lake Sewer District. Millersport currently has about 550 connections.

The village's current wastewater treatment plant could handle about 140 additional residential customers according to Carder. However, the concern is about new phosphorus discharge limits and requirements for more highly trained operators. "Council wants to make sure the horse is ahead of the cart," Carder said. The objective is a long-term plan. It might be more cost effective for residents for the village to join the Buckeye Lake Sewer District rather than continue to operate independently.

Council members also reelected Sandra Lines as President Pro Tem. She will chair meetings when the mayor is absent.

Council's next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13 in the village hall.

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