2007-03-03 / Front Page

Hebron is taking another look at a firedistrict

By Charles Prince

HEBRON - Village council members invited Union Township Trustees to their combined committees meeting Monday night to discuss a potential firedistrict.

Village Administrator Mike McFarland said part of the drive to look again at a district is the expectation that state legislators will cut local government funds. Part of the justificationfor the cut, he added, is to end duplication of service at the local level.

McFarland said there is duplication of service between the Hebron and Buckeye Lake fire departments, but didn't go any further since Buckeye Lake officials hadn't been invited to the meeting.

Union Township has contracted with the Village of Hebron for years to provide fireand EMS services in most of the unincorporated parts of the township. The township pays 60 percent of the department's operating costs which totals $500,466 for 2007. The township also has a contract with the Granville Fire Department for township residents living north of the railroad tracks. Buckeye Lake Fire Department also has a township firecontract to cover the small portion of the township south of I-70.

Union Township has two fire/ EMS levies for a total of 3.3 mills that is assessed on property owners outside of Buckeye Lake or Hebron. The Village of Hebron has three fire/EMS levies for a total of 6 mills while the Village of Buckeye Lake has one fire/EMS levy for 5 mills.

Council member Erin Finkes started the discussion by asking for the pros and cons of a district. Hebron Fire Chief Randy Weekly said that with a fire district all property owners would pay the same millage or tax rate. Right now Hebron property owners are paying almost twice as much those with property outside the two villages.

Ma y o r Cl i ff o r d Ma s o n said a district would improve management since the chief would report just to the district fireboard. He added that much of the earlier discussion during the committees meeting about capital purchases, renovations to the firestation and operating expenses would be made by the district board where both the township and the village would be represented. Responsibility now for capital purchases (major pieces of equipment) is a bit unclear with the township offering to buy some equipment and the village electing to buy others.

"Neither entity would have control," Council president Annelle Porter added. Earlier, trustee president John Slater acknowledged, "All we can do is suggest."

Trustee Jack Justice quickly threw cold water on the idea. "The talk of a fire district destroyed our long term relationship with the village," he said. "We can't increase our levies for status quo service."

When Mason asked why he was so opposed to a district, Justice said, "The math didn't let it work…We don't want a firedepartment. If we start our own firedepartment it would hurt the folks of Hebron more. We have an excellent firedepartment and well funded department. I don't see the need for it."

With the exception of Mason's comments, Justice's flatrejection of a district wasn't challenged. Trustees left the meeting without discussing any future steps or meetings.

Earlier in the meeting, Weekly briefed council members on how billing for EMS runs would work. The second reading of a resolution to authorize billing insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid was set for February 28. The third reading and vote is set for Wednesday, March 14. Approval is expected, but it would still be some 90 days before transport runs would be billed since the village would have to select a billing contractor and get that system in place.

All department runs resulting in transport would be billed whether in Hebron, Union Township, Buckeye Lake or anywhere else. Anyone living in Union Township which includes Hebron and Buckeye Lake would not receive a bill. Non-residents of the Union Township might receive bills for the deductible or co-pay portion of their insurance.

Weekly presented a draft brochure outlining the new procedure. It may be incorporated into a future Union Township newsletter. It emphasizes that "no one will ever be denied service due to a lack of health insurance." Weekly estimated the maximum annual income to the department at $157,974 with the estimated minimum at $121,626. The additional income will be used to offset the department's loss of personal property tax revenue as that tax is being phased out. He said Heath and Newark already bill for EMS transport runs.

McFarland told council members that it will probably be June or July before the contractor for the new wastewater treatment plant finishes everything. The new plant is being operated while the project is wrapped up. "We're meeting the permit and it doesn't stink," he said.

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