2008-12-06 / News

Trustees cut Millersport's portion of levy income

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - It took about an hour and a half November 25 for Walnut Township Trustees to tell Millersport officials that the village will get less money next year for providing fire/EMS services to the township.

Trustee Sonny Dupler, who did most of the talking for trustees, claims the cut will just be a few hundred dollars. What is clear is that Millersport's share of the township's fire revenue will drop for the second straight year. For years, Millersport received 65 percent of the revenue from the township's three one-mill fire levies. Voters approved a permanent additional three-mill levy in November 2006. After considerable rancor, trustees agreed to continue the 65 percent allocation for 2007, but cut it to 60 percent for 2008. Dupler said Millersport's share will be 56.5 percent in 2009, which he says works out to be $536,185. That means Millersport's percentage share will drop 13 percent from 2007.

"That's guaranteed ($536,185) as long as we get it," Dupler said. Thurston, on the hand, received a specific dollar allocation - $412,000 - from the township. "I don't see how one group can get a dollar amount and the other a percentage," Bobby Slater asked during public comments. Millersport Mayor Dean Severance also expressed concern about Millersport having to absorb all the cuts should levy revenue fall short of the estimate. He is fearful that tax collections will decline next year as the economy heads into a major recession.

In spite of Dupler's claims at the Nov. 10 meeting that he had "scrutinized it and scrutinized it and rescrutinized" Thurston's 2009 budget, there has been very little discussion of its budget in public. In that meeting Dupler told Thurston to "take off $78,000." He didn't specify where the cuts should be made or what staffing levels the department should provide.

Last week, Thurston Fire Chief Jim Hite simply noted in his report that he had provided a revised budget to trustees. There was no discussion on how or where the cuts were made.

The Beacon requested and received a copy of the revised budget after the meeting. It's still nothing more than a glorified two and half page spreadsheet, listing budget amounts for 2007, 2008 and 2009. No expenditure data is listed for 2007 or 2008, so it's impossible to determine whether the figures for 2009 are realistic or not.

Hite actually cut the "budget" by $78,980. It now totals $412,000. The most significant changes are:

• Cut Other Capital Outlay from $25,000 to 0. The township is still paying for the department's rescue and tanker. A new medic just went into service.

• Added $20,000 for the 2009 payments for the new medic.

• Cut Equipment (Gear/misc. equipment) from $20,000 to 0.

• Cut staff costs by $13,140 by reducing the original proposal to pay medics $14/hour to $13/hour. These hourly rates include required benefits. Millersport pays its medics $12/hour including those benefits.

• Cut the chief's pay from $4,000 per year to 0.

• Cut training from $15,000 to $10,000. $12,000 was listed per year for 2007 and 2008.

• Cut Small Tools/Minor Equipment from $4,500 to $1,500.

• Cut Fuel from $15,000 to $12,000. $12,000 was listed for 2008.

The rest of Hite's cuts ranged from as much as

$2,800 to as little as $300.

Dupler opened the Millersport discussion by stating that the 2009 contract is the same as last year other than the time frame (one year for 2008 versus starting a three- year contract in 2009) and percentage. "One of our goals is to do 100 percent coverage at both stations (Millersport and Fairfield Beach)," Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates told trustees.

Resident Mike Bruckelmeyer asked how the runs are split between Millersport and Thurston. "I don't know," Dupler told him. Resident Ed Brookover said the split was 70:30, Millersport to Thurston. Dupler said Brookover was wrong.

Dupler then reported that he asked the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office for the runs in September and October. He proceeded to claim that Millersport is reporting more runs than appears on the sheriff's office report. Millersport fire officials started to explain that not all mutual aid runs are listed by the sheriff's office. For example, mutual aid runs to Buckeye Lake - 76 in 2008 through 11/10 - are often dispatched by Licking County and may not be included in Fairfield County reports.

Bruckelmeyer asked Dupler if he had discussed the issue with Millersport. "I've never done this before the last two months," Dupler replied. When Bruckelmeyer asked if he did the same checking on Thurston reports, Dupler said, "I didn't pay much attention to that."

When asked why Thurston is being treated differently, Dupler said the Thurston contract has already been signed. "We had time to scrutinize it (the Thurston budget)."

Dupler then went on to claim that Yates "beat us up" for 65 percent of the revenue in 2007, "so we gave him 65 percent." That was cut to 60 percent after seeing the "frivolous" spending, Dupler said.

"You're not hurting any," he added. Dupler said the department should have about $175,000 in carryover. "You're not going to be out of money," Dupler said, addressing the Millersport firefighters in the audience.

"They don't do anything to help themselves," he added. "They are cutting their own throat."

Bruckelmeyer asked Dupler for examples of "frivolous" spending. "A $6,000 computer," he immediately responded. A Millersport firefighter who donated his time to set up the system said it was actually a file server to replace one seven years old. Dupler said Fiscal Officer Pauline Ety checked with someone who works for IBM who thought it cost too much.

Bruckelmeyr asked if anyone from the township asked the department about the expense. Dupler said "no." Bruckelmeyr asked trustees if anyone is second guessing their expenses. "I am so frustrated with the different standards for Thurston," he added.

Dupler was asked for more examples of "frivolous" spending. Dupler brought up $570 per quarter for copier maintenance. The charge is correct, Yates said, but it includes the cost to lease the copier as well as maintenance. Dupler then said the department spends $9,100 for "drugs you can get at the hospital for free." Yates said the amount claimed to have been spent on drugs has been all over the board. One time, he said, it was claimed to be some $19,000. The actual number for 2008 is about $5,000. He pointed out that hospital pharmacies often aren't open during the night when many runs occur to replace drugs used on that run and that the most efficient packaging may be not be available. Plus not every drug is available at no cost.

"I'm not saying I'm 100 percent accurate," Dupler said. "Not all are free."

Yates asked Ety how much trustees carried over from 2007 in the their fire fund. "I don't have that figure," she told him.

Bruckelmeyer, describing himself as just a "lowly citizen," said trustees were raising concerns that had never been brought up to the department. "There are differences in how you treat one department from the other," he added. "I expect the best services I can get at the lowest cost."

Dupler then read from a sheet he called, "What is fair?"

• Millersport's chief is paid $7,200 a year; Thurston chief is not paid;

• A Millersport medic is paid $11/hour; a Thurston medic is paid $10/hour;

• Millersport has reflective chevrons on the back of their equipment; Thurston doesn't have money for them;

• Northern area of Walnut Township including Millersport and Fairfield Beach have paid personnel 24-7; the southern portion including Thurston, New Salem and half of Pleasantville have paid personnel 12-7;

• Village of Thurston residents pay an additional two mill tax levy in addition to the township's six mills; Village of Millersport residents pay just the township's six mills;

• Thurston Fire Association pays for all cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper etc.; Millersport pays for these things out of the fire fund - $1,347.59 in 2007 and $1,711.44 in 2008;

• Thurston Fire Association pays for all office supplies; Millersport takes it from the fire fund

• Millersport purchases drugs - $9085.52 in 2007 and $5,899.33 to date in 2008; Thurston has spent less than $900 (replaces them from the hospital);

• Millersport phone cost per year averages $618.81 per month; Thurston phone cost is $180 per month.

When questioned, Dupler said he wrote out the comparisons. Millersport fire officials appointed out that they make more than twice as many runs as Thurston so drug use will be higher and they want to be sure that their medics are always fully stocked with convenient packaging, rather than hoping a hospital pharmacy will be open when they need it. They also noted that Millersport operates two fire stations.

Dupler asked Yates how much money the Millersport Fire Association has. He said they have about $11,000. "Anybody is welcome to see it," Yates added.

Janet Neely said the nit picking is silly. She asked why the two sides continue to battle.

"Sonny, it is the animosity you show to him (Yates)," Brookover said. "It boils down to one thing," Dupler responded. "You don't like him," Brookover offered. "They are spending money that doesn't need to be spent," Dupler claimed. "Frivolous may not be the proper word," he admitted.

Dupler then questioned $1,100 to put a lock on the chief's office. He said the private Millersport Fire Association should have paid the cost since they own both stations. Yates explained that the lock is required to protect the department's drug inventory which include narcotics. The lock also tracks who has opened the door and at what time.

During public comments, Severance took issue with a comment from Ety at an earlier meeting that due to the village's inaction "something has to be done." "We took the first step," he said. "We came out and meet with you…We put you on notice that the minimum we needed was 60 percent. It was fiscally irresponsible to give Thurston more than 40 percent."

"We may not be able to provide the same level of service as before," Severance continued. "Those staffing requirements may have to be cut back."

"I take that as nothing else but a threat," Dupler responded. "We don't have a contract with Thurston. We own it." A few moments later, Dupler said the township has a 50:50 ownership relation with Thurston.

"I'm not trying to make a threat," Severance said. "We have to look at it." Dupler handed him the contract. Trustees took no action on it. Severance is consulting with the village solicitor on the next step.

Several residents also brought up the lack of notice for the Nov. 10 meeting. "It was in the Lancaster paper," Dupler claimed. Several residents said they had scoured the Eagle Gazette, but found nothing. "It's up to Melanie (former township secretary Melanie Baker) to cut it out," Ety said. She also claimed it was supposed to have run as an ad in The Beacon. The Beacon did receive an email notification about the meeting change, but not an ad.

Ety blamed Baker for any failure to properly notice the meeting. Residents, who had signed up for email notification of meetings, also complained that they weren't notified about the change. "It's hard to pass everything on to the new secretary," Ety said.

Earlier in the meeting, trustees accepted Baker's resignation effective Nov. 21. "She had some issues," Ety said.

Trustees also briefly discussed a vacancy on the Board of Zoning Appeals. Zoning inspector Ralph Reeb was asked if he had any suggestions for the appointment. He didn't and no one else had any suggestions, so trustees unanimously appointed Doug Leith, who had expressed interest, to the board.

Trustees' next regular meeting is set for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 9 in the township offices. They will also meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 23.

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