2009-01-03 / Front Page

Millersport concedes to maintain fire services

By Charles Prince

LANCASTER - Walnut Township Trustees and the Village of Millersport reached a last minute "agreement in principal" Tuesday in their dispute about their contract for fire/EMS services in 2009.

The agreement was announced in Fairfield County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Martin's courtroom. A hearing was set for 11 a.m. on the Village of Millersport's request for a Preliminary Injunction that would keep trustees from apportioning the fire levy funds until the Court had ruled on the village's Writ of Mandamus. The motion also requested 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.

The agreement, as outlined by assistant county prosecutor Jason Dolan who represented the trustees, changes the contract trustees offered the village from a three-year term to a one-year term. All other terms are unchanged including the reduction in Millersport's allocation from 60 percent of fire levy income to 56.5 percent. In 2007, Millersport received 65 percent of the fire levy income.

Millersport had strongly objected to the allocation cut, protesting that it would first derail their plans to increase on-station coverage at the Fairfield Beach Fire Station from 12/7 to 24/7. The station is currently manned from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

The village also questioned how trustees could award the Thurston/Walnut Township Fire Department a fixed sum - $412,000, while allocating a percentage of collections to Millersport. That places the entire burden of uncollected taxes - during a major recession - on Millersport, which could cause the department to run out of money before 2010. Millersport also wanted the 60-day cancellation clause for any reason changed to a 90-day written notice requirement upon showing of clause.

Judge Martin gave both sides a couple of weeks to approve the slightly amended contract. If both parties don't approve the contract, he will convene a hearing on the request for a temporary injunction.

Millersport officials were not pleased with the "agreement in principal," but accepted it to maintain services to the public and keep 80+ year department alive.

"They (trustees) were prepared to move Thurston's equipment to the township house and zero us out," council member Dave Levacy told The Beacon after the brief court session. "Our major concern is the public," he explained. "It is saving lives and property. We're not going to do anything to jeopardize that. We'll just have to operate on a lean budget."

Millersport officials were concerned about their ability to maintain the department without funding and whether they would even be permitted to operate within the village limits. The township collects about $120,000 a year from village residents on its six mills of fire levies, but it was going to keep that money and have the Thurston/Walnut Township Fire Department provide services within the village.

"We had hoped to upgrade the heart monitors, but now that's out," Levacy added. "There are a lot of things we are putting on the back burner," Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates said.

"We had requested a fixed amount representing 56.5 percent as a compromise," Levacy said. "They said no." We hope there aren't a lot of uncollected real estate taxes which will be on us."

Walnut Township Trustees had scheduled an emergency meeting for 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 31 before the court session. Millersport has scheduled a special council meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 6 to approve the contract.

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