2008-05-24 / News

Trustees hold back fire/EMS funds due Millersport

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - "It's not their (trustees') money, It's not our money. It's the people's money," Millersport Council member Gary Matheny said during the May 13 council meeting.

Matheny's comments came during a discussion about Walnut Township's short payment for fire/EMS services provided by the Millersport Fire Department. Walnut Township paid Millersport $128,687.20 on April 22.

Earlier in the month, the township had received $425,299.22 in fire/EMS levy income from the county. Chief Deputy Ed Laramee of the FairfieldCounty Auditor's Officesaid the township would receive approximately $57,000 more in fire/EMS funds by the end of April from the state to compensate for the property tax rollbacks.

The $128,687 payment caught Millersport officials by surprise. Last year's first payment, dated April 24, was for $283,190.07. Officials expected a small reduction since trustees cut Millersport's share of levy income from 65 percent last year to 60 percent this year, but not a 55 percent cut.

Vince Popo, Millersport's assistant fiscal officer,said township fiscal officerPauline Ety told him that trustees told her to make payments quarterly. That doesn't compute according to Beacon calculations. Laramee said the auditor's estimate of fire/EMS tax revenue for Walnut Township this year is $900,000. That's the amount shown on the Certificateof Estimated Resources provided to the township. Sixty percent of that is $540,000 which works out to quarterly payments of $135,000, not $128,687.

Popo intially believed Millersport would be getting a second check, representing the village's 60 percent share (approximately $34,000) of the approximate $57,000 state payment to the township for the rollback portion of the fire/EMS levies. He's now been told by Trustee Sonny Dupler not to expect anything more until the next payment which is due July 24.

Contract language concerning payments hasn't changed from the 2007 contract to the 2008 contract. Both set quarterly payments, which is a bit of a misnomer since the first payment isn't required until April 24 which is nearly four months into the year. True calendar year quarterly payments would require payments to be made every three months. The due dates were set to match up with the township's receipt of tax revenues from the county. The first and third payments have been the largest since they represent the non-rollbank receipts from property owners' twice yearly payments.

Last year, trustees withheld the July payment of $31,329.11 until late September, claiming that Millersport hadn't been complying with all their requests for information. Since the September payment, Millersport received $37,462.87 in late December and $128,687.20 on April 22 or a total of $166,150 for a nearly seven month period. That money doesn't even pay for Millersport's budgeted personnel expenses to meet the contractually required staffing levels for that period. Staff expenses are about $26,000 a month or $182,000 for seven months.

Matheny wasn't the only council member upset about the short payment. "They are holding our money," Mayor Dean Severance added. Popo told council members, "We're going to be hurting between September and December," That's when nearly $75,000 in payments are due for the new medic and a firetruck.

"The money is not going to play out right," Fire Chief Bill Yates said. "These games have got to stop," Matheny added. "They are playing with lives. It is a power struggle for a certain person."

"They violated the agreement," council member Chuck Mesko said. "We can't operate this way."

Council members were reluctant to pursue legal action, not wanting to spend more money on attorneys. They agreed that Severance should write trustees first.

Severance's letter was hand delivered to trustees May 21. He wrote, "…I believe the spirit of the contract was that the Village of Millersport would be given their full share of the 60% at the time the township received the tax payment, especially since that has been the practice in the past. Not to mention that the money you are holding back doesn't belong to the Township but rather is the tax payer's money and it belongs in the hands of those with the responsibility to provide the fireprotection."

Severance demanded that full payment, including the village's share of the rollback, be made by May 23. Popo said Ety told him May 21 that the May 23 deadline couldn't be met since trustees don't meet until Tuesday, May 27 at 7 p.m.

In a related issue, Millersport's Safety Committee is drafting a contract that the village will submit to trustees for fire/EMS services for 2009 and beyond. Village council members want to return to the multi-year contracts that were the norm before last year. Members believe both sides are spending too much on legal fees, money that could and should be used for services.

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