2009-08-01 / News

Fairfield Beach resident questions fire service disparity

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - Questions from a Fairfield Beach resident enlivened an otherwise dull Walnut Township Trustees' meeting Tuesday night.

Floyd Duncan, who has lived in Fairfield Beach for about 18 months, had some questions for trustees on emergency medical and fire protection services.

"There seems to be some conflict on who gets what and when," Duncan said. "The buck stops here," Trustee Wally Gabriel responded. "We're looking at the big picture. We're doing the best disbursement to get the best bang for the buck."

"What is the criteria?" Millersport resident Ed Brookover asked. "We're using a criteria we think that works," Gabriel told him.

"It has no rationale of how you ended up with it," Brookover responded. "You've got to justify it."

"What is the formula for disbursement?" Baltimore- Somerset Road resident Terry Horn asked. He is running for township trustee. Both Gabriel's and Trustee Sonny Dupler's terms are up December 31.

Gabriel quickly said it isn't based on population. "We figured out what it would cost to provide 24-hour coverage," he added. "Is it working?"

Brookover told him it isn't working. Millersport is running two stations and Thurston is running one, he said.

Gabriel offered that it's "always been a headache" in funding the fire departments.

"Can you come up with something tangible?" Duncan asked. "You have to have some rationale on how you do it. That doesn't seem too difficult."

Duncan asked Gabriel to explain it. The permanent millage, five of the six mills, Gabriel explained was put on to provide 24/7 on-station coverage. "The Beach has always been a substation or whatever you want to call it," he added. Millersport Fire Department staffs the Fairfield Beach station 12/7 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

"I am not happy with the 12-hour protection," Duncan told trustees. "You can't have a station every five miles," Gabriel told him. He added that the two township departments have more medic units than the City of Lancaster.

Duncan asked if trustees thought Fairfield Beach is insignificant compared to Millersport and Thurston. "We look at Walnut Township," Dupler told him. He claimed that Thurston has volunteers at the station at night, but was corrected by a Thurston representative. Two part-time paid firefighters are on duty at night at the Thurston station. Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates said there are no specific staffing requirements at Thurston unlike the township's contract with Millersport that sets specific staffing and credential requirements. The Thurston representative didn't challenge Yates' statement.

Duncan and others pressed trustees to explain how they determined the funding split. "It's mostly hen scratches," Gabriel said about the funding calculations.

Township residents, particularly those living in Fairfield Beach, want to see how those funding decisions are made, Duncan said. "Something objective, not subjective."

"What's your objective formula?" Horn added.

Dupler claims trustees' concerns about expenditures at the Millersport Fire Department "falls on deaf ears" with the Village of Millersport. "That's why we went from 60 percent to 56 percent." Dupler maintains that the percentage reduction really didn't cut revenue to Millersport thanks to increases in property valuation.

"It's taking everything coming in to keep both departments going," Gabriel added.

Duncan and others pointed out that Thurston is much closer to Millersport than Fairfield Beach and that its population is greater than the two communities with 24/7 protection. "We have no answers or rationale," Duncan said. "All we want is answers."

"In our opinion, they (Millersport Fire Department) have the funding to have 24 hour service there (Fairfield Beach), but you can't tell Yates that," Dupler said.

Duncan told trustees that he will continue to press the issue and others about how the township allocates resources.

Zoning Inspector Ralph Reeb asked for input from Fairfield Beach residents on the rewrite of the zoning resolution. After taking a summer recess that process is gearing back up starting with an 8 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, August 11 at the township office. Reeb hopes to have the complete rewrite done and approved by trustees by the end of the year.

In other business Tuesday night, trustees unanimously agreed to ask voters this November to change the last one mill five-year fire levy to a continuous or permanent levy. Fiscal office Pauline Ety said it currently brings in $149,000 a year. Changing it to a replacement continuous levy will bring in $174,000 a year according to the county auditor's office certification. The current levy expires December 31 and will be collected through 2010. If voters approve the change, the new levy will be collected start ing in 2011. Income from the township's four fire levies - two continuing one mill levies, a continuing three mill levy and the expiring five-year one mill levy - bring in almost $1 million a year for emergency medical and fire protection services.

Road supervisor Randy Kemmerer the county's replacement of the Southbank Road bridge is getting more complex. A Village of Millersport water line is in the center of the road and will have to be relocated. Sewer, gas and telephone lines will also have to be relocated for the project. He expects the county engineer's office will bid the project in November, with work starting next year as soon as all the utilities have been relocated.

The owner of the recreational vehicle parked on the road right-of-way on Liebs Island responded to the township's demand that it be moved. The letter noted that the vehicle had been parked in that location for some two years without complaint. The complaint came only after the area was upgraded. The writer also noted a similar experience with a zoning permit. The disgusted resident said the vehicle will be grudgingly moved.

Trustees' next regular meeting is set for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, August 11 at the township office.

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