2009-01-31 / News

Hebron, Union Township plan more fire contract talks

By Charles Prince

HEBRON - Hebron and Union Township officials will continue to try to work out a fire/ EMS contract for 2009.

That was the message at Monday night's combined council committees meeting. Trustee President John Slater and Trustee Jesse Ours accepted Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason's invitation to the meeting.

The sticking point this time is how to use the nearly $200,000 generated by EMS billing since July 2007. Hebron, which hasn't spent the money, wants to use most of it for capital improvements for the fire department. Union Township wants its share to go toward meeting its 60 percent share of the department's operating expenses.

Trustees raised the issue months ago and Hebron Village Council recently agreed to extend the 2008 contract two months into 2009 to provide more time to resolve the issue.

Trustee Jack Justice, who has frequently battled the village over previous contracts, escalated the dispute at the Jan. 19 trustees meeting. Following a two-hour meeting with Hebron officials on Jan. 17, Justice said the township's relationship with the village may have "digressed to the point where it's not repairable." He supported talking with the Village of Buckeye Lake and the City of Health as backup contractors.

"We owe it to all residents to continue dialog in an attempt to sign an agreement," Mason said Monday night. "We need to continue to meet." He repeated his suggestion that the parties consider using an outside mediator to reach an agreement.

"How much can trustees pay?" Mason asked Slater and Ours. "I would like to see a counterproposal of what you can afford. A one to two hour meeting shouldn't be the end of it."

Slater said the alternatives - Village of Buckeye Lake and City of Heath - were only brought up in the event an agreement couldn't be reached. "We need to continue discussions," he added.

Council member Annelle Porter asked Slater if trustees would agree to use a mediator. "It's not necessary at this point," Slater told her. "We would be receptive to that if things weren't going well."

Slater said trustees want to split the EMS billing revenue along the contract percentage lines which would be 60 percent to the township. "We would like it to help offset Union Township's obligation," he explained. "We want to alleviate the stress on our general fund." Slater said Union Township is now subsidizing its fire fund with general fund revenues. Doing so, will force the township to cut back on road improvements, Slater said.

"Union Township wants to forge ahead and reach an agreement," Slater concluded. He and Mason spoke briefly about setting up another work team meeting.

In other discussion Monday night, a majority of council members informally accepted Mason's suggestion that the village drop the idea of charging a fee for teams to use village parks. "Recognize what they have done and say we're not inclined to charge an assessment," Mason said.

His suggestion came after comments from two Lakewood Youth Baseball Association board members. "We would be willing to mow the ballfields," board member Rick Grosse said. He added that the soccer, softball and flag football teams are willing to do the same for their fields. Grosse said the mowing would be done by qualified contractors with the necessary insurance.

"Our leagues are all volunteer," he explained. "It is hard to ask them to cough up more money."

"There are ways we can help you out," Grosse added. "We're not comfortable paying out cash."

Informally dropping the fee assessment now allows the leagues to distribute signup information to parents without further delay. Village officials will continue discussions with the leagues about their offer of in kind contributions to reduce the village's $18,000 annual outlay for parks.

Grosse and fellow board member Chris Middlemus both volunteered to help the village with its next campaign for an income tax increase or park levy.

Jim Dobos, president of the Hebron Area Soccer Association, thanked council members. "You have given soccer a chance to make a mark here."

Glenna Jones, vice president of the Hebron Business Association and co-chair of the Hebron Music and Arts Festival, told council members that the group would like to build a permanent stage at Canal Park. Preliminary plans call for a 24 x 24 foot covered stage constructed from maintenance-free recycled plastic lumber. Jones said materials are estimated at $10,000.

She said the tentative location is the east side of the park near the foot bridges, facing into the park. Jones plans to seek some grants to help pay for the materials, but first wanted to get some feedback from village officials.

Mason suggested contacting community development coordinator Andie Myers to get the permit process started. He suggested taking a rendering to next Monday's Planning and Zoning Board meeting. "I think it is a great idea," Mason added. None of the four council members present objected to the concept.

Fiscal Officer Cari Kraner had some sobering information for council members in her presentation on the 2008 financial closeout. Last year, the general fund took in $1.3 million and spent nearly $1.5 million. The deficit for the water and water reclamation fund was larger. Revenue was $1.4 million, while expenses were just over $1.7 million. Kraner said the recent water and sewer rate increases are building revenue and cutting the deficit.

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