2007-09-15 / News

Walnut Township Fire/EMS contract heating up again

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - Village Council and Walnut Township Trustees could be heading to court over the fire/EMS contract, several frustrated council members said at their Tuesday night meeting.

The issue is the contract between the township and village for the Millersport Fire Department to provide 24/7 on-station staffing at the Millersport station and 10 hours per day, seven days a week on-station staffing at the FairfieldBeach station.

Last November, Walnut Township voters, including Village of Millersport residents, narrowly approved an additional three mill permanent levy to fund 24/7 onstation staffing.Coverage went to 24/7 on January 1 at the Millersport station based on the "head nod" Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates got from Trustees Sonny Dupler and Wally Gabriel at a December trustees' meeting.

At a contentious meeting January 23, trustees unanimously agreed to give Millersport 65 percent of the "firelevy money" with the final contract wording contingent on approval of the county prosecutor's office.Millersport had been receiving 65 percent of the township's three-one mill firelevies which was sufficientfor Millersport to provide 10 hours a day, seven days a week on-station coverage. A month later Millersport officials were still waiting for a contract from trustees.

An open letter from trustees printed in the Town Crier and what Millersport officials considered a "secret" meeting between trustees and Thurston's Village Council fueled the controversy. The letter complained about Millersport's excess spending without giving any details or examples. The Thurston Village Council meeting concerned the contract between the township and the village for the joint ownership of the Thurston-Walnut Township Fire Department. Millersport officials also learned that the township hired outside legal counsel to draft the contract.

Finally on April 24, after months of debate, trustees unanimously approved a revised oneyear contract with Millersport and handed Millersport Mayor Dean Severance a check for $283,190.07. Getting that contract signed by both parties has proven difficult.In a July 20 letter to the village, the township's outside legal counsel enclosed two original copies of the contract to be signed by Severance. The contracts were signed and turned over to trustees on July 24 for their signatures.

Millersport has yet to receive an executed copy of the contract. Trustees, in a July 12 letter to Millersport, outlined several "concerns" about the village's compliance with the reporting requirements portion of the contract. Acting village fiscal officerVince Popo told council members Tuesday night that he has compiled with the requirements. That letter from trustees also noted that the next payment due the village is to be paid by July 24 per the contract. The letter said payment could be delayed due to "violations."

Popo said Tuesday night that no payments have been received since the initial payment in late April. He warned that the balance in the village's firefund is getting close to dangerous levels. A total of 30 part-time fire/EMS personnel are on the payroll to provide the enhanced coverage at both firestations.

"They owe it to their constituents to do it right and they aren't doing it," Severance said.

"It is taxpayers' money, not Walnut Township's," council member Charles Mesko added.

Council members asked Yates whether trustees had said anything to him about the 2008 contract. Yates, who attended the concurrent trustees meeting, said trustees didn't mention Millersport during the meeting. Yates said a committee of council members should be discussing next year's contract with the trustees. He agreed with Popo that the nonpayment will affect the firedepartment soon.

"This is absurd," Mesko said.

"We have complied with everything," Yates added.

Council member Dave Levacy believes it will require legal action to resolve. Several council members and Severance agreed.

"I hate to see it happen," Levacy said.

Council members agreed for Severance to write a strong letter

to trustess, threatening legal action if the payment shortfalls aren't addressed.

In other business Tuesday night, Severance opened fivebids for the village's annual resurfacing project. Eleven streets are slated to receive two inches of asphalt - a one inch base layer and a one inch finish layer. Streets to be resurfaced are: Friend Street, Hancock Street, alley between Friend and Hancock streets, Lynn Street, Gift Street, Summit Street, Firehouse Alley from Summit to gate, Wilson Avenue from Summit to Gift, Fair Avenue from Summit to Gift, Ohio Avenue from Summit to end and Cottage Avenue from Summit to end. The estimated cost was $56,000.

The bids were:

• Neff Paving of Nashport

,502.50

• Heiberger Paving of Canal Winchester - $69,292.34

• Kokosing of Westerville $59,570

• Spires Paving of Lancaster

$64,802

• The Shelly Company of Thornville - $51,116

"This is a nice turnout of bids," Severance said. Bids will be forwarded to Village Solicitor Thomas Corbin for review. Council members plan to hold a special meeting yet this month to award the contract.

Popo reported that the warm summer helped the pool. "We did not lose money," he said. "We'll have between a $4-5,000 carryover."

The higher minimum wage pushed costs way up, he said. Severance said the village will seek non-profit status for the pool next summer so they won't have to pay minimum wage. He emphasized that the village wanted to be fair to its young employees, but can't afford the significantlyhigher wages, particularly if the summer weather doesn't cooperate.

Council member Jame Wright said the village did much better renting the village-owned docks this summer. Only fiveweren't rented compared to double that last year. Street commissioner Gilbert Arnold is gradually replacing the old docks and plans to complete eight more this fall.

The decision last month to wait until this month to address a request to open a skill games business in Millersport appears to have paid off. Popo said village officials haven't heard from Tim Nolan for some time. It appears that the machines he had placed in a Lancaster Street strip center space have been removed.

Severance said fiveapplications have been received for the Board of Public Affairs clerk position. He will be joined by Levacy, representing council, and Doug Carpenter of the Board of Public Affairs, to interview the candidates next week.

Council members also unanimously agreed to table the third reading of a resolution to increase the pay rate for the position of police chief from $10 per hour to $12 hour. Members went into an executive session to discuss personnel. The meeting was adjourned without further action after the closed session. Council's next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9 at the village offices.

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