2013-11-02 / News

Union Township says it has a ‘Plan B’ for fire contract

By Scott Rawdon

UNION TOWNSHIP – Union Township Trustee President Rick Black said he has “Plan B” ready in case fire contract negotiations with Hebron collapse. “The township has a Plan B. You have to have one,” he said.

Trustees recently offered Hebron roughly $420,000 for a 2014 contract to provide fire and EMS service to areas of the township south of the railroad track. Trustees are paying $420,000 for the current 2013 contract, after paying roughly $625,000 in 2012. The township’s typical 60 percent share of operating expenses was estimated at $645,000 for 2013.

Trustees said nothing has changed financially for the township and they can only pay Hebron $420,000 for 2014.

The township’s two fire levies totaling 3.3 mills bring in about $505,631 per year with $80,000 earmarked for the township’s contract with the Granville Township Fire Department, which services the portion of the township north of the railroad.

Trustees blamed the former fiscal officer for leading them to believe the township had more money than it did. However, the township’s most recent audit by the State Auditor’s Office did not absolve them of blame for the township’s financial difficulties. The audit included 10 findings and stated “proper Board monitoring was not performed...”

Hebron officials reluctantly approved the 2013 contract when Mayor Clifford Mason broke a 3-3 tie vote.

However, the township has 1.5 mills fire levy on the Nov. 5 ballot and trustees told Hebron officials they would be willing to reopen negotiations if it passes.

Hebron officials presented several changes to Union Township’s proposed 2014 fire contract, which Hebron and Union Township officials continue to discuss.

“I hope we won’t have to go to (Plan B),” said Black, “but we won’t be backed into a corner.”

He said several fire departments border Union Township and trustees have a good relationship with all of them. Black said there have been no formal discussions about contracting with anyone except Hebron and Granville Township, but surrounding departments have agreed not to allow township residents to be without fire or EMS service if the trustees can’t reach an agreement with Hebron.

“That would be their choice,” said Mason. “It would or does not have any impact on current or future discussions with them. Our objective is to provide them with an agreement that works for both parties and for all residents that is financially responsible.”

“There’s nothing on paper yet, but we’ve been open to discussions,” said Heath Mayor Mark Johns. “It’s the nature of fire and EMS, if you’re needed, you try to help.” He said obviously Heath’s residents and businesses are first priority, but the city will provide fire and EMS service to Union Township if necessary. “Mutual aid, kind of along the same line of thinking,” said Johns.

He said the township fire levy’s outcome would have a lot to do with Heath’s future discussions with the township. Johns hopes Union Township and Hebron can reach an agreement. “We’ll see how it shakes out and go from there,” he said.

“We wouldn’t want to see anyone not have service,” said Granville Township Fire Chief Jeff Hussey. “We informally assured them there would be service if they got into a jam.” He was clear there have been no formal discussions with trustees to alter Granville’s service to Union Township beyond servicing the area north of the railroad tracks. “We hope they’re able to work that contract out (with Hebron),” said Hussey.

Black said he believes agreement with Hebron could likely be reached but, “We made sure we still have the township protected.” He reiterated there have been no formal discussions with surrounding fire departments although negotiations could be quickly opened if necessary. “The levy is going to determine if there’s going to be any more money,” said Black.

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