2009-05-02 / News

Fire/EMS payment dispute flares up again

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - Tempers flared at Tuesday night's Walnut Township Trustees' meeting.

The trigger was the contentious contract for fire/EMS services between the Village of Millersport and Walnut Township. Trustees' agenda included their records request to Millersport as old business. "They are very, very delinquent on that," Trustee Sonny Dupler said. He says he still needs the duty schedules. The contract sets specific staffing requirements for the Millersport Fire Department at both the Millersport and Fairfield Beach stations. "Maybe it is not being taken care of to hoyle," Dupler charged.

"We believe we have complied," Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates told Dupler. "We believe you have everything to make a viable audit. The advance duty roster is not an auditable document."

Yates explained that he sets the following month's schedule by the 15th of the preceding month. However, it often must change as the totally part-time staff has to adjust to the demands of their full-time jobs.

"We have given you time cards," Yates added. The time cards list who worked when and where (which station) on specific dates. That led to a brief heated exchange with Dupler telling Yates, "I believe you are a liar." "I know you are," Yates responded.

Acting Trustee President Wally Gabriel told the two to settle it. "It is a plan. By the 15th, I have the plan," Yates explained. "If you are auditing me, I want you to use the time cards." Gabriel asked if he would give trustees a copy. Yates said he would be happy to email a copy to trustees at the same time he sends it out to department members. Gabriel agreed that an email would be acceptable.

During public comments, Yates asked trustees why Millersport only received half of the payment due April 24. Dupler delivered a check for $132,724.62 to the village on April 24. An attachment with the check shows that Walnut Township received a total of $471,321.66 in fire levy revenue. Per the contract, the township deducted $1,500 which is one fourth of fire ombudsman Billy Phillips' salary. The contract provides that Millersport receives 56.5 percent of the fire levy receipts after the deduction for the fire ombudsman. That works out to $265,449.24 which inexplicably was divided by two, for the actual payment to Millersport.

"We got half of what we were to get," Yates told trustees. Dupler said the contract provides for quarterly payments. Payments actually aren't made quarterly, but rather four times a year - no later than April 24, July 24, September 25 and December 24. "We know it's quarterly," Yates told him. "You cut it in half."

Yates detailed the math for Gabriel. "You divided it by two for some reason," Yates said again. "I just don't know the reason."

Dupler passed the meeting sign-in sheet to fiscal officer Pauline Ety. She said only four people had signed in and Yates wasn't one of them. "You need to be signed in to make a com- ment," Ety told Yates. Earlier this year, trustees decided to limit comments to those who signed in. Robert Slater II, who noted he was signed in, asked how payments could ever be equal. "You don't know what will be collected," he explained. Yates said the word "equal" had specifically been removed from the contract several years ago. "We believed we would get our percentage of what was collected," Yates said.

"You'll end up with 56.5 percent at the end of the contract," Gabriel told him. Gabriel wanted to know how much is in the village fire fund. Yates said Dupler had the latest report, which Dupler reported as about $75,000 before the April 24 payment. He ventured that ought to be enough to run the department until the next payment.

Several residents asked why half of Millersport's payment is being withheld. "We put it in the bank and it draws interest," Dupler told one resident. That interest then funds other township activities which Dupler said benefit the whole township. If Millersport were to do the same, it would only benefit the village, Dupler added.

Yates asked how much Millersport could expect in the July 24 payment. Ety responded for trustees. Millersport will get the withheld $132,724.62 plus 56.5 percent of the township's fire levy receipts from now until then, she said. Of course, another $1,500 will be deducted for the ombudsman's salary first. Additional levy receipts will be minimal before the July payment. Second half tax payments will be reflected in the September payment.

Several residents expressed frustration about the township continuing to withhold some of the village's payment. They thought last year's dispute about withheld payments which lead to a joint trustee/village council meeting at the elementary school resolved the issue. Dupler countered that the agreement to pay the withheld money after that meeting was just an "advance" payment to help the department obtain a federal grant.

"I just think this is a power trip," resident Karen Bergum told trustees.

In other business Tuesday night, Ety reported two residents expressed interest in serving as an alternate on the Zoning Commission or Board of Zoning Appeals. Elizabeth Groves and Clayton Lattimer responded to an ad seeking interested residents. Alternates regularly attend meetings, but only participate if a board member is absent. Trustees were reluctant to make a decision since they nor Ety knew either candidate. They asked if there were any other names and then attempted to pass the issue to Zoning Inspector Ralph Reeb. He quickly kicked it back, telling trustees it is their appointment and he shouldn't be screening board members. Ety then suggested inviting them to a meeting so trustees could meet them.

"If someone wants to serve, let them serve," Reeb said. At that point, Deane Maughmer, who was attending the meeting, volunteered for one of the positions. "I have done it before," he told trustees. Ety said his interest came too late. Dupler suggested conferring with the candidates before making a decision. Maughmer offered to withdraw. Trustees then unanimously appointed Groves to the Board of Zoning Appeals. She and her husband live on Ohio 37. Lattimer was unanimously appointed to the Zoning Commission. He and his family live on Sellers Drive, next to Smitty's.

Trustees opened bids for a used John Deere 345 mower and a 1997 New Holland 7740 tractor. The single bid for the tractor was $20,600. Three bids were submitted for the mower with the highest at $2,505. Trustees ultimately decided to reject all bids due to a higher value as trade-ins. A John Deere dealer is valuing the tractor at $23,000 and the mower at $3,000 on a lease/purchase plan for a new John Deere 35D mini hoe. The trade-ins will be the only payment required this year, with $7,000 annual payments required in the second and third years. The lease reverts to a sale with a $1 payment in the fourth year.

The mini hoe will primarily be used for ditching. It is able to directly load dump trucks unlike the township's former ditcher which scattered dirt everywhere. The township has recently been spending about $2,700 a month to rent a mini hoe for a couple of months each year.

Trustees also accepted Ohio Public Works Commission funding for Phase 1 of the Cherry Lane improvement project. The estimated cost for the first of three phases is $348,079 with a township share of $87,368. The entire $1.3 million project will move fences back to the edge of the road right-of-way, construct and slope new ditches, extend the width of asphalt from 12 feet to 18 feet and add two foot berms on each side. "It is the worse road we have in the township given the traffic," road supervisor Randy Kemmerer told The Beacon. It's is too narrow for school buses, maintenance trucks and emergency vehicles to pass another vehicle without one of them being forced in a ditch.

Phase 1 runs from Blacklick Road north to the Licking County line. Phase 2 runs from Blacklick Road south to Ohio 204 and Phase 3 is from Ohio 204 south to the Liberty Township border.

Trustees also opened bids for road resurfacing materials. The Shelly Company submitted the only bid. Ety said she had budgeted $150,000 for road repairs, but that amount will be reduced to cover at least a portion of the township's share for the Cherry Lane project. Trustees unanimously agreed to award the road repair materials contract to Shelly. Now that the material prices are set, Kemmerer will get detailed material estimates from Shelly on specific road projects. Then, depending on how much money is left after the Cherry Lane payment, trustees will approve specific projects.

Trustees also approved a revised contract with Fairfield County Regional Planning. The agency is drafting revisions to the township's zoning resolution. The changes don't increase the township's payments to the agency, but do speed up payment. The revision was originally considered a 12-month project, but has now been extended to 18 months, with the revised ordinance in place early next year. Reeb said a third draft will be out in June. Zoning Commission members will suspend their work until September to give seasonal residents a chance to review the proposed changes.

Reeb also asked trustees about the status of a letter to advise residents about junk vehicle violations.

"We've had four complaints on junk cars in the last two weeks," he said. "I want a letter with some teeth.'

Ety said she is still waiting to hear from some more townships about how they are handling the issue.

"It (HB50) is not a good law," Reeb added. "It dumps it back on the township." HB50 was approved by the Ohio Legislature in late 2007 and became effective in March 2008. It allows townships to remove junk motor vehicles from public and private property and for other debris from private property. Trustees will wait for more feedback from other townships before deciding on their course of action.

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