2009-05-02 / News

$5 million stimulus award will reduce water rates

By Scott Rawdon

BUCKEYE LAKE - A $5 million federal stimulus package will significantly lower public water rates for Buckeye Lake Village customers, although the exact amount is yet to be determined.

"It's going to have a huge impact on (rates)," said Buckeye Lake Mayor Frank Foster during Monday night's council meeting. The stimulus money will take a serious bite out of the $6.5 million loan the Ohio EPA is providing the village to construct a public water distribution system. The village is buying bulk treated water from the Village of Millersport. Foster estimates the village will be responsible for repaying about $2 million in loans when the entire system is built. Construction will likely begin in June.

Director of Development Valerie Hans said the $5 million is a grant that doesn't have to be repaid. She said Ohio EPA will provide the $6.5 million loan as planned so the village may begin construction, and the stimulus money, when it becomes available, will pay down most of the loan.

Council members will attend Millersport's next village council meeting for a ceremonial "handing of the check" to pay Millersport's $306,000 tap fee. Buckeye Lake planned to pay the fee April 28 after receiving the funds from the Ohio EPA.

Foster said Ohio EPA will not loan the extra money needed to make the village's water tower resemble a light house, but the Ohio Water Development Authority will. Council members also decided to spend roughly $100,000 to place a device on the water tower that automatically transmits readings from water meters. Foster said although the initial expense is high, the system will not require the village to pay an employee to read the meters, which will save money in the long run.

The village's water tower will be a $1.3 million Hydrodynamic Gateway tank; the upgrade to resemble a lighthouse will cost roughly $88,000.

In other council news:

• The Buckeye Lake Fire Department is scrambling to put numbers together, hoping to convince Union Township to contract with Buckeye Lake for fire/EMS services in the unincorporated portions of the township south of the CSX rail line that bisects the township.

For years, Union Township has contracted with the Village of Hebron for the Hebron Fire Department for the services. The sticking point on this year's renewal is how to use the more than $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. Trustees want what they consider the township's share, to go toward meeting its 60 percent share of the department's operating expenses.

The trustees raised the issue months ago and Hebron Village Council agreed to extend the 2008 contract two months into 2009 to provide more time to resolve the issue. Previously, Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason said extending the contract beyond the two-month period is acceptable as long as the issue is resolved fairly quickly, but it remains unresolved.

Buckeye Lake Fire Chief Pete Leindecker said Buckeye Lake may be able to serve Union Township for less than the $584,000 per year Union Township pays Hebron, but he didn't want to get into a "bidding war" with Hebron.

Council President Charlene Hayden said the village goal is to serve Union Township for less than the Hebron Fire Department and Buckeye Lake needs to act quickly.

Buckeye Lake firefighter Dave Ruton said the Buckeye Lake shouldn't present a figure to Union Township until the township specifically asks for one. "It's not just something we can throw out a number on," he said. But, he thought Buckeye Lake could offer emergency services for significantly less than Hebron. He said he and Leindecker would begin crunching numbers.

"I say we need to do that as soon as possible," said Hayden.

Tuesday, Union Township Trustee President John Slater said the trustees are willing to hear what Buckeye Lake has to offer, but aren't ready to enter into negotiations yet. Hebron's desire for a 10 percent administration fee to process MED 3000 information and monthly payments for Union Township remains unresolved. Slater said he's asking Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason to justify the fee, which the trustees believe is too steep. Slater, a farmer, said he hasn't had many opportunities to discuss the situation with Mason because it's planting season and he's literally waiting for a rainy day to talk to Mason.

Slater said trustees spoke to Buckeye Lake and Heath months ago when the dispute with Hebron began. Slater reiterated he's willing to hear Buckeye Lake's offer, if there is one, but he's hopeful a contract can be reached with Hebron.

Monday night, Foster asked the Buckeye Lake Fire Department to have figures ready to present to Union Township by the village's safety committee meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Leindecker estimated Buckeye Lake would need to add three full-time medics to serve the areas of Union Township that Hebron is serving. Buckeye Lake is currently under contract with Union Township, but for a much smaller area than Hebron serves.

• Council member Shelly Small believes Buckeye Lake Village's children will suffer because the LEADS organization will no longer provide transportation to Buckeye Lake. Kenneth Kempton, CEO of LEADS Community Action Agency of Licking County said previously as of September 2009, the LEADS Head Start program would no longer provide bus service to Buckeye Lake. He said Wednesday between rising transportation costs and the tightening economy, there's no federal funding for transportation. Kempton said Licking County LEADS is only providing bus service to Buckeye Lake and Utica, and both will be discontinued by September. "We've been reducing (transportation) for a number of years," he said. Kempton said LEADS programs in general are eliminating transportation simply because they can no longer afford to provide it.

"We have a high poverty level in our area and most of the kids come from lowincome parents," said Small. "Getting them back and forth to school is going to be a huge burden." She's concerned some kids will drop out of school next year because parents won't be able to transport their children. "I feel the kids who need it the most will just fall through the cracks," said Small. She's concerned the powers that be forget the kids make the Head Start program. "When will the kids come first instead of the all mighty buck?" she asked. "What happened to no child left behind?

Kempton said Tuesday that LEADS is a private corporation. "We have federal contracts and contracts with the State of Ohio," he said. "We also have contracts with private companies and utility companies."

• Will Ryan Park become Ryan-Braden Park? Council member Drew Bourne asked to rename Ryan Park in honor of resident George Braden for his contributions to the village. "We should do it soon," said Bourne.

Foster said he'd ask the village solicitor what steps are necessary to make a change.

• The Buckeye Lake Charter Review Committee is fully staffed and includes residents Karen Cookston, Rick Baker, Kay Allen, Annetta Macedonia, and Sharon Bartoe.

• Council members voted to turn in the village's aging lawn mower and pay $5,000 to receive a new mower. The village will then have the option to pay $1,000 to replace the mower annually with a new one. With that arrangement, Foster said the new mower would always be under warranty. He said the village could easily accumulate more than $1,000 per year in mower repairs, especially with an aged mower. This way the village would always have a reliable mower. All council members agreed except council member Donna Thompson.

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