2008-11-15 / News

Cut looms for Millersport Fire

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - Some Millersport officials are questioning whether Walnut Township Trustees held an illegal meeting Monday morning.

Walnut Township Trustees have set their regular meetings as 9 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month and 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday. The question arose after trustees moved the Nov. 11 meeting to Nov. 10. The Beacon received an email last week announcing the change, but not an order to advertise it. Trustees stopped advertising meeting and public hearing notices in The Beacon late last year after a Beacon editorial criticized trustees for failing to put residents' safety first in their negotiations for a new fire/EMS services contract with Millersport.

Trustee meetings, even the morning meetings, typically draw 6-12 residents. On Monday morning, the only non-township employees or relatives present were this writer and a representative of the Thurston-Walnut Township Fire Department. Several residents, who have specifically requested e-mail notification for all meetings, told The Beacon that they didn't receive notice of the change. Nor have they been able to find anywhere the notice was published. The meeting notice was not posted on the door when this writer arrived for the meeting. Nor was the change noted on the calendar on the township's upgraded website.

It's what happened at Monday's meeting that has Millersport officials upset. About midway through the 40-minute meeting, the issue of the Thurston-Walnut Township Fire Department budget for 2009 came up. Thurston Fire Chief Jim Hite had presented a glorified spreadsheet at the Oct. 14 trustees meeting. The simple two and a half page document lists round number amounts for 2007, 2008 and 2009. It doesn't include expenditure data for 2007, nor expenditure data year-to-date for 2008. For example, an account

for Millersport for "operating supplies and material (EMS/oxygen)" was listed at $5,000 in 2007, $5,000 in 2008 and $7,000 for 2009. The "budget " total requested for 2009 is $490,980.

"I've scrutinized it and scrutinized it and rescrutinized it," Trustee Sonny Dupler said. "There is just no way we can come up with that much money." The Fairfield County Auditor's Office has certified a total of $955,000 from the township's four fire/EMS levies in 2009.

"Take off $78,000. Give them $412,980," Dupler suggested. He and Fiscal Officer Pauline Ety briefly discussed the final figure after subtracting the $78,000, but Dupler didn't explain what budget items were to be reduced or what staffing levels the department would provide with its additional funding.

Hite's spreadsheet listed two day crew (12 hour shift) medics at $14 per hour and one day crew EMT at $12 per hour, both for 365 days per year. He also proposed significantly expanding night coverage with one night crew (12 hour shift) medic at $14 per hour and one night crew EMT at $12 per hour, again both for 365 days per year. Currently, Thurston has three paid staff on duty from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and one paid person from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. who then sleeps at the station, but isn't paid for that time unless there is a run. Millersport budgets its medics and EMTs at $12 per hour including required benefits.

Ety said they had asked for a budget from "the others" (Millersport) a month ago and hadn't received it. "Something has to be done," she said.

There was no further discussion or questions from Trustee President Ralph Zollinger. He and Dupler quickly approved a resolution setting the Thurston budget at $412,980. Trustee Wally Gabriel wasn't present; he was with his mother at the hospital.

Last year, trustees cut Millersport's share of levy revenues from 65 percent to 60 percent.

Millersport Fire

This year Millersport asked to return to multi-year contracts and its previous 65 percent allocation. At a September 30 joint meeting with Millersport officials, trustees agreed to a three-year contract term, but refused to set the fund allocation.

Millersport wants to use the extra money to expand on station coverage from the current 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Fairfield Beach station. "It is our goal to add additional hours at Fairfield Beach," Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates said Tuesday night. "I believe they (trustees) should be looking at need."

He presented run data from the 9-1-1 Center that as of Nov. 11, Thurston has made a total of 382 runs this year, including 92 mutual aid. For the same period, Millersport has made 881 runs, including 188 mutual aid. That means Millersport has made 70 percent of the total runs for both departments. If mutual aid runs outside the township are excluded, Millersport has made 69 percent of the runs in the township - 709 to 313 for Thurston.

Millersport officials contend that by any measure their allocation should be at least 65 percent:

• Number of runs in township - 69 percent, number of total runs - 70 percent;

• Property valuation in the Millersport coverage area - approximately 73 percent of township total; and

• Number of fire stations staffed - two to one for Thurston.

Millersport officials fear that the larger allocation to Thurston means a significant cut in their allocation. Total certified income from the levies next year is $955,000. The new Thurston budget doesn't appear to include next year's interest and principal payment on the new medic Walnut Township purchased for Thurston. The chassis was purchased outright, but about $120,000 for the medic box was financed. That payment is probably somewhere around $20,000 which will have to come off the top of the $955,000 revenue. Subtracting both Thurston's new contract and the medic payment leaves a best case allocation of $521,000 for Millersport which works out to a 54.5 percent allocation. Millersport was to receive $540,000 this year based on its contractual 60 percent allocation of the township's $900,000. It appears that the best case scenario will cut Millersport's revenues by $19,000, nearly a 4 percent reduction.

"I think we need to get serious here," council president pro tem Dave Levacy said Tuesday night. "They are endangering the public."

"Something has to be done," Mayor Dean Severance agreed. He plans to contact village solicitor Kevin Bush to file a complaint about the illegal meeting Monday morning. The Open Meetings Act provides that actions taken in a meeting not properly noticed are invalid.

In other business Tuesday night, Millersport Council members unanimously agreed to hire John Wood as full-time water superintendent. He is the current superintendent on a part-time basis, but is now giving up his position with Fairfield County Utilities Department. Wood has worked in the field since 1974 and holds the highest class water supply license and will soon hold the highest waste water license. He will be paid $60,000 a year. Wood will soon complete a degree in civil engineering from Columbus State. The village will be able to use him to monitor future construction projects, eliminating the cost of an outside observer.

Assistant fiscal officer Vince Popo reported that so far the village has identified $20,265 in extra costs from the Hurricane Ike winds. He's already met with FEMA representatives. FEMA will reimburse the village for 75 percent of eligible expenses.

"We keep finding more," Popo said. "We're going to get a nice chunk back."

Council members also approved the appointment of Robert Blackburn as an unpaid auxiliary officer. Severance announced that part-time officer Kevin Gentzel had resigned Monday night. He thanked him for his service.

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