2010-05-29 / News

Hebron sweetens fire contract offer for township

By Charles Prince

HEBRON – Village council members unanimously rejected a four-point, half-page proposal from Union Township Trustees for a 2010 fire/EMS service contract, Wednesday night.

The Hebron Fire Department has provided fire/EMS services to the unincorporated portion of Union Township south of the CSX rail line for years. In recent years, negotiations for the annual contracts have extended well into the new contract year and been rather contentious. For last several years, the disputes have focused on how EMS billing revenue is allocated and spent.

Hebron started billing private and public insurance plans in July 2007 whenever a patient was transported to a medical facility. Hebron wanted all EMS billing revenue to be setaside for fire department capital improvements like new equipment or facilities.

Union Township wants to use their portion to offset their share of the department’s operating expenses. The township has been paying 60 percent of the department’s estimated operating expenses for years. For four out of the last five years, the township has actually paid less than 60 percent of the operating costs as unexpected price increases pushed costs higher. Hebron has picked up the additional costs.

An agreement last year gave the township 50 percent of all EMS billing revenue collected in 2007 and 2008 and 100 percent of the revenue generated in the unincorporated portion of the township in 2009.

Trustees have continued to push for 60 percent of all EMS billing revenue on the premise that they are paying 60 percent of the operating expenses. Hebron says billing revenue isn’t necessarily linked to costs and has rejected the township’s proposal to continue paying 60 percent of the costs contingent on receiving 60 percent of all EMS billing revenue and using it to offset operating costs.

On May 17, trustees approved an offer to pay 55 percent of the operating costs and delivered it to Hebron on May 25. Trustees now believe they can do their own EMS billing so they would collect everything coming from the unincorporated areas.

Their proposal is pay 55 percent of the budgeted operating costs for the next three years. Council members were pleased with the multi-year offer, but not the contribution cut. Two additional conditions that weren’t openly discussed during the trustees’ meeting weren’t well received. The first states “the 55% paid for fire and EMS services each year shall not exceed 90% of the Union Township fire levy funds collected annually.”

“That’s too much exposure,” Village Solicitor Wes Untied told council members. With that limitation, Hebron would be required to provide services even if township voters rejected a replacement or renewal levy, cutting the township’s payment 40- 60 percent. In its plain reading, Hebron would be obligated to provide services for the balance of the contract even if both township levies were removed.

A requirement that any $10,000 change in the fire department’s budget, up or down, would constitute a “financial emergency,” requiring trustees and village council members “to meet and take action to resolve the financial emergency” is considered unworkable. The department’s annual budget is just over $1 million.

“One percent is not much to constitute a financial emergency,” Untied said. Mayor Clifford L. Mason said $10,000 could be the cost to repair an unexpected transmission breakdown. “We just have to fix it,” he explained. “I don’t want to get caught up discussing $10,000 expenses.”

“We need to make sure that all our equipment is ready to go,” council member Bob Gilbert said.

On the other hand, council members accepted the proposal that four months prior to the end of each budget year, the Hebron fire chief, a trustee and a council member “will meet together to plan the next budget period.”

After unanimously rejecting the township proposal, council members laid out a counteroffer.

“Let’s reduce our administrative cost,” Mason suggested. Hebron is currently charging the township a 6.5 percent fee on its EMS billing revenue to cover the village’s efforts to isolate and pay out separately the revenue generated in the unincorporated area.

Two weeks ago, Trustee President John Slater cited the village’s administrative fee as the financial justification for the township to try to do its own EMS billing. Mason suggested cutting it to 3 percent.

Council members then unanimously instructed Untied to draft a counterproposal based on the following points:

• Three year term;

• Township continues to pay 60 percent of the budgeted operating costs;

• Township receives 100 percent of the EMS billing revenue generated from the unincorporated areas;

• Township may spend its EMS billing revenue as it sees fit;

• Hebron’s administrative fee is cut from 6.5 percent to 3 percent; and

• Both parties will jointly plan the next budget period.

The counterproposal will be drafted for formal action at the next council meeting set for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 9.

In other business, council members unanimously authorized Mason to appoint Jessica A. Ethell as the village’s fiscal officer. She replaces Carie Kraner who resigned late last year to return to the Village of Granville.

“We’ve hear a lot of good things about you,” Mason told her.

Ethell lives in Trinway, near Dresden. She has been the Village of Frazeysburg’s fiscal officer since March 2008. She will begin a one year probationary period on Tuesday, June 1. Tax administrator Mindy Kester has been serving as interim fiscal officer.

Village Administrator Mike McFarland announced that an application for $16,000 in Community Development Block Grant money to replace the elevated side walk on the south side of Main Street, just east of High Street, has been approved. The village is responsible for engineering costs, but he expects them to be minimal since it is a repair job.

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