2007-12-15 / News

Playing with fire and lives

Just over 13 months ago, Walnut Township voters (including those in the Village of Millersport) generously voted to permanently tax themselves an additional three mills for fireand EMS protection. The new levy is on top of three one-mill levies. That means a property owner living in a home valued at $100,000 is paying about $180 a year from fireand EMS services. Homes valued at $200,000 are paying twice as much and so on.

The Millersport Fire Department, which worked hard for the new levy, quickly geared up to provide what had been promised to voters - 24/7 onstation coverage at the Millersport firestation. The department has been making the vast majority of the fire/EMS runs in the township for years. Most recently, Millersport had been providing 10 hours a day/seven days a week on-station coverage via a four-year contract for 65 percent of the township's firelevy income.

Millersport was anxious to fulfil their promise to voters. Trustees, lead by Sonny Dupler, apparently weren't ready to let go of all that new money. Fire Chief Bill Yates and Village of Millersport officials sought commitments from trustees that they would be reimbursed for the additional cost of 24/7 coverage. At one point, Dupler contended a "head shake" was evidence of their commitment. Trustees finally approved a one-year contract on April 24, but it included a specific time limit to respond to calls which Millersport nor any other department could accept. A revised contract from the township's outside legal counsel was sent to Millersport in late July. It was signed by Millersport on July 24.

During all this contract uncertainty, Millersport began staffing the Fairfield Beach station 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Trustees originally asked for 10 hours a day, but Yates proposed 12 hours a day (7 a.m. - 7 p.m.) to provide more time for volunteers to get home from work. Meanwhile, trustees decided to withhold the payment due July 24, claiming the village wasn't providing all the information required by the contract. That $31,329 payment was finally paid Sept. 26, more than three months late. The third quarterly payment was on time.

Yates, Millersport officials and some residents have been asking trustees about the 2008 contract for months, hoping to avoid the contentiousness and uncertainty that marked this year's contract. Millersport requested a return to multi-year contracts, a request bolstered by voters this November when they approved making two of the one-mill levies permanent. Now fiveof the six mills total are permanent, minimizing any concerns about revenue stability.

Dupler refused, as late as last week, to provide any details about the new contract. He promised a draft last week and one finally appeared via fax Friday afternoon. It doesn't address any of the village's concerns and appears designed to give trustees an excuse to withhold payments.

For example, it's still a one-year contract. It cuts payments to Millersport by at least 7.69 percent, by changing payment from 65 percent of firelevy income to 60 percent. That reduced share comes after trustees take out "all incurred expenses, including but not limited to, Fire Ombudsman fees, attorneys' fees, etc." Trustees appointed township firemarshal Billy Phillips as ombudsman Sept. 24, but he's had no contact with the department since then. No salary was mentioned at that time.

Millersport's duties under the contract are spelled out in great detail, but that detail is nowhere to be found when it comes to specifying payment for their services. The contract refers to 60 percent of "designated firelevy income," but somehow fails to designate any specific levies. Who knows what the "etc." expenses incurred are that will be deducted before Millersport gets its reduced share. The harassment factor has been increased as trustees require more and more detailed information in this contract and set tight deadlines to receive it. For example, Dupler recently demanded a copy of every bill and check paid this year out of Millersport's firefund. The twoinch stack of copies was delivered to him a couple of weeks ago. But he's still claiming that Millersport owes him more information. Failure to successfully read Dupler's mind means that trustees can withhold payment.

Obviously, this is a contract designed to be rejected. Trustees have waited until the last minute, knowing that Millersport could never accept such terms. Tuesday night Millersport officials said the department will return to 100 percent volunteers if an acceptable contract isn't in place by Jan. 1. No one has been scheduled for January and several members of the totally part-time staff are moving to other departments next month.

The biggest question is why? Is it a power trip, vindictiveness or something else driving Dupler? Whatever the reason, it needs to stop NOW. This isn't Dupler's money nor does it belong to the trustees. It is your money and you are paying for 24/7 fire/EMS protection. But you are going to lose that protection Jan. 1 if trustees don't stop playing petty games with your money. It's time for Trustees Wally Gabriel and Ralph Zollinger to step up. They can stop Dupler's dangerous game with your safety or they can keep it going. Trustees have one more meeting this year. It's set for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at their offices.It's time to tell them to stop playing with fireand your safety.

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