2008-06-14 / News

Village council sets special meeting with trustees

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - Village officialshope that a special meeting with Walnut Township Trustees can resolve a growing dispute over the fire/EMS contract.

That meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16 in the Millersport Elementary School auditorium.

Assistant village fiscal officerVince Popo suggested setting up a meeting during Tuesday night's village council meeting. He is also a member of the Walnut Township Schools Board of Education. Popo is trying to see if Superintendent Ron Thornton or District Treasurer Kirk Grandy would be available to help moderate the meeting. Both officials are relatively new to the district and live ouside the lake area. Popo hopes both sides would consider them neutral , yet highly interested in reaching a settlement.

Popo, along with Mayor Dean Severance and council member James Wright, attended a 9 a.m. trustees meeting. Severance's May 20 letter demanding that trustees pay the village it's contractual 60 percent share of fire/ EMS levy receipts was listed as "old business" on the agenda.

"I think a letter is in the works for council tonight," Trustee Sonny Dupler said when the agenda item came up. He refused several request from residents to discuss the letter. Millersport resident Mike Bruckelmeyer asked if anything in Severance's letter was incorrect. Dupler said payments had been made twice a year through 2006. The village and township had multi-year contracts through 2006 until the township insisted on one year contracts.

Popo asked why a check was originally cut on April 22 for $257,374.41, then voided and rewritten for $128,687.20 "Pauline (Ety, township fiscal officer)sorta forgot," Dupler responded.

"What is the purpose of holding back money (paying Millersport $128,687.20 versus $257,374.41)?" Severance asked trustees. "Talk to your fire chief and Levacy (council member Dave Levacy)." Dupler told him. "Bill (Fire Chief Bill Yates) wanted it (levy money) as it comes in," Trustee Wally Gabriel added. "That isn't going to happen."

Popo pointed out that he didn't see anything in the contract setting equal quarterly payments. "When you get the money, pass it on," Severance urged. "We are the commissars of the money," Dupler declared. "They (Yates and Levacy) were explicit on quarterly payments."

Bruckelmeyer asked if trustees held back money in 2007. "I paid the full amount and I made a mistake," Ety said. The township paid Millersport its then 65 percent share of $283,190.07 on April 24, 2007. "You made the same mistake twice," West Bank resident Kreig Babbert asked. "I was told I did it wrong last year," Ety responded.

Popo asked how the township and village got to this point over the past two years. "I don't understand why we aren't working together on this issue and others," he added.

"We're not working together at all," Trustee President Ralph Zollinger interjected.

Dupler distributed copies of a Millersport ledger showing a firefund balance of $213,240.73 as of April 30. It includes the most recent payment. He contended that the department has plenty of money and will get $163,067.55 in late July.

Bobby Slater asked how much the township has in its firefund. Ety estimated about $500,000, noting that it would be about $340,000 after the township makes its semi-annual payment to the Thurston-Walnut Township Fire Department. Trustees pay its part-time employees directly so Thurston's payment covers other operating expenses. In response to a question, Ety said the fund balance is invested in a money market fund or certificates of deposit. Bruckelmeyer asked if the county withheld tax payments to the township because it had $500,000 in its firefund. Both Dupler and Gabriel said "no."

Severance told trustees that the village wants to return to multi-year contracts to save on legal expenses. "I don't have a problem with that Dean," Gabriel responded. "But there needs to be some kind of grievance procedue to address complaint that you haven't handled." Robert Slater Sr. quickly said the department saved his life and did the same for Gabriel. Severance said he wasn't aware of any specific complaints at all. Dupler and Gabriel said there was a June 5 squad run on King Road in FairfieldBeach. The Millersport medic was at the Pizza Cottage and the FairfieldBeach medic was in Millersport. Response time was 10 minutes. Severance said he wouldn't necessarily begrudge medics stopping for lunch on their return from the hospital. Dupler pointed out that Pizza Cottage will deliver in Millersport.

Dupler also brought up a $1,000 lock for the Millersport Fire Station. He said he had been seeking an explanation for months. He was told once again that the lock is used to closely monitor access to medications at the station.

Zollinger cut off discussion after Dupler said he watched the FairfieldBeach medic come into town three days in a row for breakfast.

The subject came up again during public comments. Bobby Slater said any grievance policy should apply to both departments. He added that Thurston Fire Chief Jim Hite rarely attends trustee meetings. Yates normally attends trustee meetings, but is a chaperon on the Millersport High School senior trip.

"Lead, follow or get out of the way," Babbert told trustees. "We don't understand your objectives." He said he hears plenty of "micro managing" but no discussion about run times or cost of service. "You should be working together with these departments. It isn't your money"

Babbert added that delaying payments and signing a contract is "just being an obstacle."

Trustees delivered a letter to Millersport in time for it's 7 p.m. council meeting. Severance read the letter during the meeting.

The letter, signed by all three trustees, repeated Dupler and Gabriel's claims that council member Dave Levacy and Fire Chief Bill Yates requested the quarterly payments. "Walnut Township Trustees feel that changing payments at this time would be a breach of contract and that is not agreeable," the letter read. "If you want to go back to the prior payment schedule of paying 2 times a year, June and December, we can re-negotiate the contract." The letter noted that the next payment would be made by Junly 24 and that the village's firetruck payment is due September 26.

Severance said Yates actually asked for payment as the township received tax receipts from the county. Since the township could receive up to a dozen checks from the county, they agreed on four payments.

Levacy added that he would have never agreed to this method if he knew it would work out this way. "It needs to be renegotiated," he said.

Popo said the village's firefund balance would drop to about $144,000 after Wednesday's payroll charge. "It was never specified to be equal quarterly payments," he added. He then made this suggestion for a joint village council/trustees meeting.

"I'm for that," Severance said. Trustee President Ralph Zollinger who attended the council meeting, immediately agreed to a joint meeting.

Assistant Fire Chief Rob Price told council members that the department's finances are "past being tight."

For example, the department is using borrowed hose from Pleasant Township Fire Department. Members have been reluctant to test all the hose because what happens if more of it fails.

"Do we test it and blow it out or do we keep it on the truck and hope it works," Price explained. He added that the department is one of the few and possibly the only one without a 12-lead heart monitor. Twelve leads give much more information and can determine whether a patient is taken to FairfieldMedical Center or a Columbus hospital. A 12-lead monitor costs about $15,000 and the department would need two.

Price said medics have been called on a number of assault and gun runs and often can't wait for the sheriff's officeto arrive to secure the scene. The department doesn't have any ballistic vests or protective equipment for medics in those situations.

"We need the money as it was agreed upon," he concluded.

"We need to get this going right again," council member Gary Matheny said. "We need to try to get something settled."

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