2010-11-13 / News

Fire contract negotiations start

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - Walnut Township Trustees apparently agree on at least one issue when it comes to EMS/fire protection. The six mills of permanent fire levies approved by the voters don’t bring in enough money. The county auditor’s office has certified $994,000 from the levies in 2011, up from the $948,000 certified for this year.

Trustees also agree on the solution. It’s time to start billing insurance companies and government programs for EMS transports. Trustee Terry Horn brought it up when trustees met with the Village of Thurston’s Safety Committee last week.

“Where are we at with the budget (Thurston fire budget)?” Safety Committee chair Jimmy Barber asked Horn. “Right now it doesn’t work,” Horn responded. “I need to make some recommendations and bring it before trustees.”

He added that it looks like there will be a $68,000 deficit in 2011 without considering capital equipment needs like new medics, engines and heart monitors. That projected deficit is based on staying with three-person crews 24/7 at Thurston and two-person crews at both of Millersport’s stations. “That’s the imbalance,” Horn said at the Thurston meeting. “That’s the difference in the budget.” Barber said Thurston pays a dollar less per hour for paramedics than Millersport which saves nearly $9,000 per year.

Last week Horn thought EMS billing could raise $150,000 - 200,000 a year. “That’s a way to make it all up,” he explained.

After reviewing Thurston’s transports for the last five years, Horn raised his estimate Tuesday night to $197,000 - $211,000 a year based on the current level of transports from both departments. The company handling the billing takes 6.5 percent off the top. Horn expects it would take 60-90 days to set up the program and another 90 days before revenue starts coming in. Full revenue would be expected in 14 months.

There is some question whether the township could set up the billing program since it doesn’t directly provide the service. Trustees unanimously agreed Tuesday night to ask their legal counsel - assistant county prosecutor Jason Dolan - for a legal opinion.

“I was opposed to it (EMS billing) 100 percent,” Trustee President Sonny Dupler said. “I’ve changed. Everybody around us is doing it.” He added that trustees had two options - EMS billing or ask voters for more millage.

Horn discussed a draft Millersport contract with trustees Tuesday night that was drawn up by the working group. It didn’t include a contract amount or a final decision on EMS billing. “We’re working it (contract amount) out,” he said when an audience member asked about the amount. The major changes are:

• Sets a four year term beginning 1/1/11.

• Extends the current deadline of the 15th of the month to the 20th of the month for delivery of fire fund ledger/journal and fire fund appropriation status reports to trustees. Allows Millersport to provide reports electronically and limits required monthly reports to the above information.

• Sets three rather four payment dates of April 30, September 30 and December 31, specifying that they be the village’s percentage of fire levy revenue received or reconciled on or before the payment dates.

• Changes the current notice to cancel the contract from 60 days to one year and establishes a requirement that within 30 days of such notification that both parties enter into good faith negotiations to resolve any issues that caused the notice of cancellation.

• Adds a clause addressing disposition of equipment in the case of contract termination or nonrenewal. Physical assets, property and facilities purchased using township fire funds and owned by the Village of Millersport “shall be distributed or made whole to each party” as mutually agreed by both parties. If an agreement can’t be reached, the issue is turned over to an independent arbitrator whose decision is final and binding.

Dupler’s first reaction was, “This is gonna change.” He didn’t like extending the due date for monthly reports. “They have been late 50 percent of the time,” he growled. Horn repeatedly asked him what he had found in the past from the reports and how five more days would affect it. “Spending,” Dupler finally responded. “I haven’t heard any issues this year,” Horn told him. Dupler told him to just wait and see.

Dupler liked returning to two major payments a year with a year-end reconciliation. But he objected to basing payments on the township’s receipt of levy funds. “This benefits nobody but the Village of Millersport,” he said. The village will be able to earn interest which by law will go into the village’s general fund. Dupler wants the township to be holding the money and earning the interest. When Dean Maughmer reminded Dupler that last year he said the issue was basically meaningless since interest rates are so low, Dupler said, “If nothing else it is a matter of principle.”

Dupler quickly rejected the 12 month notice for termination. “I will not agree to that - no way. One year in my opinion is out of question.” He mentioned 60- 90 days notice for termination.

“This should have been done years ago,” Dupler remarked on the clause addressing disposition of assets. But he doesn’t want an arbitrator involved. There were questions whether this clause would only apply to equipment purchased after this contract begins or would it apply to equipment previously purchased with township fire funds. Both Horn and Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates said it would apply to anything purchased by township fire funds that still has value.

Yates asked Dupler, “What gave you the right to give away our property?” The reference is to the township’s contract with the Village of Thurston that gives the side being cancelled all the equipment. In other words, should Thurston’s performance become unsatisfactory to the point of cancellation, the village would get to keep all the equipment purchased with township funds. Dupler didn’t respond.

“I won’t agree to this,” Dupler summed up his comments. “There will have to be some modification to this (the contract).” He promised to clarify his objections before the next trustees’ meeting.

Thurston’s fire budget was also on the agenda. “We either approve a $412,000 budget for them or do the same thing for them,” Dupler said. The “same thing” is to continue the current $412,000 budget into 2011 until a new budget agreement is reached. Trustees have already unanimously agreed to continue the current Millersport contract into 2011 if an agreement on a new contract hasn’t been reached by Dec. 31. “I agree they should have that assurance,” Horn said. Dupler’s motion was approved unanimously.

In other business Tuesday night, Joe Kitchen, an associate planner with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, invited Walnut Township to join the Balanced Growth Plan process for the Walnut Creek Watershed.

The watershed’s headwaters are in Walnut Township. It covers 262 square miles including parts of Fairfield, Franklin, Licking, Perry and Pickaway counties. The watershed flows 58 miles to join the Scioto River in Pickaway County. It includes 22 communities with nearly 60,000 residents. The predominant land use is agriculture with approximately 15 percent of the land developed.

Kitchen said MORPC is working on five central Ohio watersheds. MORPC started with the Olentangy Watershed eight months ago. Every community in the watershed is participating.

Balanced growth planning is defined as a “voluntary, incentive based strategy to protect and restore Ohio’s watersheds to assure long-term economic competitiveness, ecological health, and quality of life.” Most of the work is done by a watershed steering committee. Every community can have a representative on the steering committee if desired. There are no fees or dues and Walnut Township is free to determine its level of participation

The group primarily defines priority conservation areas, priority development areas and priority agricultural areas.

Kitchen said the planning effort doesn’t trump existing rules and regulations. It is not a regulatory body.

“We aren’t going to take anybody’s land,” he added. “We don’t have the power to take anything.”

“We don’t have land use control,” Kitchen added. “It is not a land use plan.”

“I don’t see a down side,” Horn said. Dupler wants to talk to the Fairfield County Regional Planning Commission before making any decision about joining. “It seems you are trying to infringe on RPC,” he said.

Kitchen said they are working with RPC on the project. “This is a community-directed process,” he explained. “We aren’t trying to strong arm anyone to get involved.”

More information is available about the Mid-Ohio effort at http://BalancedGrowth- Planning.morpc.org. For state-wide information visit www.blancedgrowthohio.gov.

Horn announced that some progress has been made on one of the “distressed” properties n the township. He said the remaining basement and partial floor deck at 8920 Lancaster-Thornwood Road has been filled in by the property owner.

Trustees unanimously accepted assistant county prosecutor Jason Dolan’s advice concerning the collection of the auditor’s $400 finding for recovery against former township zoning clerk Lisa Ety. Dolan wrote that considering the uncertainty about her whereabouts and ability to pay, coupled with the relatively small sum, it is a wiser use of resources to seek reimbursement from the bonding company rather than Ety herself.

“It taught us a lesson,” Dupler said.

Road supervisor Randy Kemmerer asked trustees to consider purchasing a hydraulically operated chain saw extension that can be mounted on a skid loader or a mini hoe. Kemmerer said the township pays about $1,400 a day for a crew to trim trees hanging over township roads.

The new saw costs $1,995. The township already has a chipper. “We could pay for it in two days,” Kemmerer said. Trustees unanimously agreed.

Fiscal officer Lynn Kraner said the township netted $37,565 from the sale of the old dump truck. The township’s best interest rate is 1.2 percent, but the township is paying 3.5 percent interest on the chassis loan on the new dump truck. She suggested applying the sales proceeds to the loan balance which cuts it to about $4,000. Dupler suggested paying the entire loan off and trustees agreed.

Trustees have two public hearings next week to consider Zoning Commission recommendations. Both hearings start at 7 p.m. The Wednesday, Nov. 17 hearing concerns the complete revision of the township’s zoning code. The Thursday, Nov. 18 hearing concerns a request to rezone approximately 62 acres west of Ohio 37 from I-1 to I-2 to allow the development of a C&DD landfill on approximately 32 acres of the site.

The Zoning Commission recommends approval of the revised zoning ordinance and recommends that the rezoning request be denied.

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