2010-07-03 / News

Trustees cut back road resurfacing plans

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT – Projections of a significant budget shortfall in 2011 prompted Walnut Township Trustees Tuesday night to cut back their original road resurfacing plan for this summer.

Trustees had earlier agreed to spend about $170,000 to resurface Ruffner Road and a number of streets running off Lakeside Road. Trustee Terry Horn suggested delaying both projects for a year. Trustees have already committed to spend $97,000 this year for their share of the estimated $291,000 cost for the second phase of the Cherry Lane reconstruction project. This phase runs one half mile south from Blacklick Road.

“Ruffner is critical,” road supervisor Randy Kemmerer told trustees. “It has not been resurfaced in 23 years.” He estimated that delaying work for another year could increase the cost by $50,000. Kemmerer said Ruffner is a high speed road compared to the low speeds on the streets off Lakeside Road. They can be maintained for another year with minor patching.

“We’re not destitute or broke,” Trustee President Sonny Dupler said. Trustee Ralph Zollinger moved to amend their original plan and just resurface Ruffner Road. His motion was approved 2-1, with Horn wanting to hold off for another year.

Ruffner will be repaved from Canal Road to Musser Road – a total of 2.5 miles. Kemmerer said a nearly three-inch thick motor pave layer will be applied to the road. The cost estmate is $124,000. Trustees will cut resurfacing expenses by about $45,000 by pushing back resurfacing Seller’s Drive, Shephard Avenue, Clark Street, McLeish Street, Gearhart Street, Holtsberry Street, Park Street, Hamilton Street and Richards Street.

In other business Tuesday night, trustees decided to poll employees after an extensive discussion about switching to direct deposit for payroll checks. Horn said several Walnut Township/ Thurston firefighters raised the issue with him. Most of the department’s part-time employees live outside the county and either have to make a special trip to the station to pick up their check or wait until their next scheduled work day. Checks are available at the station; none are mailed. Fiscal officer Lynn Kraner said regular checks cost 20¢ each while an electronic check is 10¢. There is also a $25 per month fee to do direct deposit.

“I see no savings in that,” Dupler told Horn. Dupler also wants his check in his hand. Zollinger and Kemmerer also wanted to keep getting their current paper check. Horn proposed to switch to direct deposit, exempting Dupler, Kemmerer and Zollinger. “It is a good service for the employees,” he explained. Kraner said the conversion would be simple. Both Dupler and Zollinger rejected Horn’s motion, prompting him to vote against his own motion so he can bring it up later. Trustees unanimously agreed to survey employees on the switch.

During a discussion on whether to hire some additional parttime employees for the Thurston/ Walnut Township Fire Department, Horn suggested requiring that firefighters hold a 240 hour card before they can move from volunteer to part-time paid status. He wants to create the expectation that firefighters receive additional training before being paid. “I don’t think we can change the rules midstream,” Dupler said. “A lot of departments will never take a guy to 240,” Fire Ombudsman Billy Phillips said. They don’t want the extra expense nor pay for the additional training. Horn later rescinded his motion to require a 240 card before reaching part-time paid status. Trustees unanimously approved the new part-time employees.

Trustees and several Seller’s Drive residents discussed the 20 foot wide “fire lane” extending to Smitty’s. Kemmerer said the county engineer’s office told him that neither the township nor county owns the right-ofway. Neither body can declare it an official fire lane. “Fire lanes can’t be on private property,” Phillips said. Residents are trying to determine the validity of several “no parking” signs along the gravel roadway. Three Walnut Township “no parking” signs are still in place. Kemmerer said a recent memo went out to Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office deputies instructing them to ticket and perhaps tow vehicles violating those signs. Previously, deputies had just issued warnings.

Horn reported that he had researched a complaint from a Fairfield Beach resident about motorists continuing to drive on the unpaved right-of-way at Dahlia Drive and Oak Road. He learned the township could install an “End of Pavement” sign where the paved road turns into grass. An “End of Township Road --” sign could also be installed. Kemmerer said those signs would probably have to go in the front yard of a resident, questioning whether they would allow the signs. Horn will discuss the options with the affected property owners.

An opinion from assistant county prosecutor Jason Dolan about the amount of the payments from trustees to the Village of Millersport for the fire contract didn’t satisfy critics. Both sides agree that the contract requires payments to be made four times per year. Dupler refers to them as quarterly payments, but the frequency is not every three months. The first payment is made nearly four months into the new year, the next in about three months, then two months, and then three.

Major tax payments are made to the township from the county twice a year – in April and September. Much smaller payments are made several times throughout the year. Millersport believes it should receive it’s 60 percent share – minus its portion of the ombudsman expense – of all fire levy income received by the township prior to the four set payment dates. That means Millersport would be get big payments in April and September and much smaller ones in July and December. Dupler believes that trustees should try to make four reasonably equal payments. He has admitted on several occasions that he favors this approach to allow the township to hold onto the fire levy receipts longer, earning interest for the township’s general fund. Last October before he faced voters, Dupler conceded to Millersport’s proposal that the payment be their percentage allocation of fire levy revenues received by the township. “It’s not worth it at one percent (interest),” he explained.

But he returned to form in April, instructing Kraner to deduct the village’s share of the ombudsman expense and then pay Millersport 50 percent of its 60 percent share.

Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates raised the issue at the May 25 trustees meeting. He said payments were handled properly in 2007 when the village received two big payments and two small ones. The term “equal payments” first appeared in the 2008 contract, Yates said. It has been removed from the contract.

“It (the contract) does not say how much the quarterly payments are,” Dupler said May 25. “We could have given them one dollar.”

Horn asked Zollinger is the issue is worth fighting about and he said “no.” “Why do we want to keep the money?” Horn asked. “We’re just the funnel.”

“The contract does not prohibit us from giving them 60 percent,” he added. “So why don’t we just do it? Why go through this every quarter? When Thurston presents us a bill, we pay it. What are we gaining here? Let’s show some spirit of cooperation. Let’s lay out the olive branch.”

Horn later moved to pay Millersport 60 percent of the levy money received less its share for the ombudsman. It died for a lack of a second. Zollinger later indicated that he didn’t second Horn’s motion because he believes the contract prohibits it. That led to a unanimous agreement to ask the prosecutor’s office for an opinion. Unfortunately, the letter to the prosecutor’s office didn’t reflect the question raised during the meeting. Rather, Nolan responded that the current practice “appears to be in compliance with the contract.”

“You just had them validate the current process,” Maughmer told Dupler. “You could also give them the 60 percent.”

Trustees also agreed unanimously to transfer $11,000 from the general fund to the zoning fund in order to pay the zoning inspector’s salary.

The next trustees meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 13 at the township offices.

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