2008-12-13 / News

EMS/Fire contract dispute may be headed to court

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - The Village of Millersport and Walnut Township could be heading to court over the 2009 contract for fire/EMS services.

Tuesday morning, Walnut Township Trustees unanimously approved a three-year contract with Millersport, allocating 56.5 percent of the township's "net designated fire levy income" as payment. That's a reduction of 13 percent from 2007 when Millersport received 65 percent and down nearly six percent from this year's 60 percent allocation.

"We're gonna sign these (multiple copies of the contract) and give them to Millersport Council," Trustee President Ralph Zolllinger said. "Then it will be in their hands."

"Their specs on the term; our's on the percentage," Trustee Sonny Dupler added.

West Bank resident Kreig Babbert asked trustees how they justified the 56.5 percent allocation. Zollinger told him that it was discussed at the last meeting (November 25). Dupler claimed Babbert was at that meeting, eventually conceding that he had mistaken someone else for Babbert. Dupler told Babbert that the southern portion of the township hasn't had 24/7 coverage and allocating more money to Thurston will make it happen. Dupler moved to approve the contract and once Zollinger seconded it, fiscal officer Pauline Ety immediately began the roll call vote.

Township resident Carol King asked about staffing coverage at Thurston. "I assume three through the day and two at night," Dupler said. When Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates asked about staff qualification requirements at Thurston, Dupler told him he would have to talk to Thurston Fire Chief Jim Hite. Dupler angrily told him, "Don't nitpick. You know what is going on."

Millersport's contract requires that each two-person crew at the Millersport and Fairfield Beach stations have at least one paramedic and one EMT-Basic.

During the formal public comment period, Babbert said a disproportionate amount of money is being spent on the lower population density portion of the township. "It feels like my money is being spent in an inefficient way," he added. "Your animosity toward Millersport showed in this meeting today," Babbert said. "Too much money is going to Thurston."

Zollinger hand delivered the contract to Millersport officials Tuesday afternoon.

Millersport Council met Tuesday night. They spent about an hour and a half in executive session discussing the contract and their next move with village attorneys. Following that closed session, council members unanimously agreed to have Village Solicitor Kevin Bush prepare a revised contract. That contract was to be presented to trustees Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.

Three changes will be made in the village version. First, the allocation will returned to the 65 percent in the place for 2007 and the preceding years. "We will put in a dollar amount to put us on the same footing as Thurston," Mayor Dean Severance said. The dollar amount will be calculated as 65 percent of the fire levies income certified to the township by the county auditor's office. Millersport is seeking an updated estimate. Four weeks ago it was $955,000.

Returning to the 65 percent allocation will allow Millersport to provide 24/7 coverage at both the Fairfield Beach and Millersport stations. Fairfield Beach currently has 12/7 coverage - 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Currently, Walnut Township has agreed to pay $412,000 to Thurston in 2009 and 56.5 percent to Millersport. That means any shortfall in tax collections due to the declining economy would be totally borne by Millersport.

The final revision concerns the termination clause. The township version reads, "Either party may terminate this Contract for any reason upon 60 days written notice to the other party." That means it is a 60 day contract. Millersport will change that to a 90 day written notice requirement and to require "just cause" for termination.

Severance said legal action is a possibility if they are unable to work out an acceptable contract. The current agreement expires at the end of December.

"Our main concern is to provide the service," Severance added.

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