2008-12-20 / News

Judge gets fire/EMS dispute

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - It will now be up to Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas Judge Chris Martin to sort out the dispute between the Village of Millersport and Walnut Township for fire/EMS services.

Last Thursday, Village Solicitor Kevin Bush told trustees in a hand delivered letter that Village Council had rejected the proposed fire/EMS services contract for 2009. He wrote that the proposed funding level of 56.5 percent of the net designated fire levy income is insufficient and is not supported by logic or reason. Bush wrote that despite trustees unwillingness "to approach these negotiations in a reasonable manner," the village still seeks an amicable resolution and "remains committed to providing the citizens of Walnut Township with exemplary fire and EMS protection."

Bush presented a counterproposal, setting a 5 p.m., Dec. 12 deadline for acceptance. He warned that it would be withdrawn after the deadline and that litigation is imminent.

The counterproposal detailed three modifications to the contract approved by trustees on Dec. 9.

• The extensive reporting requirements and documentation provisions will only be acceptable to Millersport if the same requirements are also imposed upon the Thurston/Walnut Township Fire Department.

• Walnut Township shall pay the Village of Millersport $620,750 or 65 percent of the net designated fire levy income in four installments. Fifty percent to be paid by April 24, 20 percent by July 24, 20 percent by September 25 and the remaining 10 percent due by December 25.

• The termination clause should be revised to read: "Either party may terminate this contract, upon 90 days written notice to the other party, but only upon a showing of just cause."

The letter also said, "it is impossible and illogical to allocate to one Village on a numerical basis and allocate to the other Village on a percentage basis." Trustees awarded $412,000 to the Thurston/Walnut Township Fire Department.

Trustees didn't accept the counteroffer and have scheduled a special meeting for 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 22 to discuss imminent litigation. That litigation, as of Dec. 16, is now pending. Trustees are expected to immediately go into executive or closed session to discuss the litigation. Trustees' regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 23. Both meetings will be held in the township offices on Millersport Road.

The Village of Millersport filed a Verified Complaint for Mandamus and Temporary Restraining Order and for Injunctive Relief, and a Motion for Preliminary Injunction in Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas on Dec. 16. The motion asks the Court to restrain the trustees from ordering apportionment of fire levy funds until the Court has ruled on the village's Writ of Mandamus. It adds that the township's recent agreement with the Village of Thurston creates a situation where the village is unable to "adequately perform" its "statutorily obligated" fire/EMS services and is forced to "sign an unconscionable contract where Plaintiff would run out of money before 2010."

The motion also requests that the parties be enjoined from entering into a contract for 2009 and rather be ordered to extend and operate under the terms of the 2008 contract. In addition, the village asks that the trustees be enjoined from carrying out the terms of the 2009 contract with the Village of Thurston. A hearing has been requested before Dec. 31, 2008, since that's when the current contract expires.

In it's Writ of Mandamus, the village states, "In 2007 in meetings outside public view, Walnut Twp. began discussions and deliberations to become a 50% owner in the Village of Thurston fire department." The Writ also states, "Walnut Twp. has no formula and does not have any specified analysis to determine the apportionment of the tax levy funds."

The Writ contends that Walnut Township has "abused its discretion in the apportionment of the fire levy funds." As evidence of that abuse, it notes that Millersport operates two fire stations to one for Thurston. Furthermore, as of Nov. 11, the Thurston Fire Department had made a total of 382 runs in 2008, including 92 mutual aid runs. During the same period, the Millersport Fire Department made 881 runs, including 188 mutual aid runs. That means Millersport made 70 percent of the total runs for both departments.

The Writ asks that the trustees be ordered to apportion no less than 73 percent of the fire levy income to the Village of Millersport.

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