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Dupler stirs up new fire contract dispute

MILLERSPORT – If you thought last year’s approval of a four-year fire service contract between Walnut Township and the Village of Millersport ended that battle, you are wrong.

That contract requires Millersport to provide a fire prevention officer for the area it serves in the township. Previously, trustees had paid Billy Phillips $6,000 a year to serve as the township-wide fire prevention officer and fire department ombudsman. Phillips reportedly retired when his salary was eliminated to provide more funds for the Millersport and Thurston-Walnut Township fire departments.

Millersport Village Council members appointed Fire Chief Bill Yates fire prevention officer in March. The contract also gives trustees the right to appoint the fire prevention officer.

The June 9 final law enforcement/ emergency services meeting for the BLASST fireworks appears to have triggered the latest flare-up. Phillips was reported to be retired at that meeting and Yates was chaperoning the annual Millersport High School senior trip. Trustee Sonny Dupler was called from the meeting. He told safety officials that Millersport was responsible for providing the fire prevention officer. That settled the issue as far as BLASST was concerned and Yates signed the recent submittal to the State Fire Marshal’s Office for this year’s show.

That call might have been the trigger for Dupler’s latest mischief. Trustees appointed Thurston Walnut Township Fire Chief Jim Hite fire prevention officer for that department’s service area at their June 14 meeting. Trustees scheduled meeting for June 28 was pushed ahead one week to June 21.

Tuesday night, Dupler said four Millersport Fire Department members are qualified to be a fire prevention officer – Yates, Rob Price, Rob Robinson and John Singleton. He said Price and Robinson recommended Singleton for the post. Yates told The Beacon later that more than half of the department have the required certification.

Trustee Terry Horn asked Dupler who Yates had recommended. Dupler said he didn’t talk with Yates. Dupler then moved to appoint John Singleton fire prevention officer. He acknowledged to Horn that he hadn’t spoken with Singleton about the appointment.

“Why are you making this an issue?” Horn asked Dupler. “If we’re going to break one rule, let’s break them all,” Dupler responded.

Horn appealed to Trustee Ralph Zollinger, who had sided with him last year in finally approving the four-year contract with Millersport, several times during the discussion. “This is a significant issue,” Horn told Zollinger.

Zollinger side with Dupler this time in a 2-1 vote to appoint Singleton fire prevention officer.

Yates had left the meeting for a run before the discussion. When he returned, Horn asked Zollinger if he would be willing to discuss the position with Yates. “The fireworks are going to be impacted by this,” Horn told Zollinger. Dupler objected, but Zollinger agreed to talk about it with Yates.

“Singleton is probably the most qualified,” Yates said. Singleton is a full-time prevention officer for the West Licking Fire District. Yates also said that Phillips had recommended that the two fire chiefs in the township also serve as fire prevention officers.

“I’ve already signed off on Hamburg Fireworks and sent it back,” Yates added. A fire prevention officer must be on site continuously once the firework shells arrive. The officer must also return at daylight to inspect the area for any undetonated shells.

“You’ve appointed a good person, but he still reports to me,” Yates added. He plans to question the township’s $6,000 a year payment to Phillips during the next audit as unnecessary since the two fire chiefs are already obligated to perform the job under state law. Dupler confirmed that Singleton was unaware of the appointment, adding that the township doesn’t plan to pay him.

In other business Tuesday night, Dupler reluctantly agreed to Horn and Fiscal Officer Lynn Kraner’s recommendation that trustees allocate their time on a weekly basis between general fund activities, road and bridge and zoning.

Horn and Kraner are trying to reduce the anticipated general revenue fund deficit by allocating appropriate road & bridge and zoning expenses to those accounts rather than charging most costs to the general revenue fund. Trustees agreed unanimously to shift nearly $20,000 out of the general revenue fund, but Dupler initially balked at allocating trustee salaries, calling it a “big pain in the neck.”

Trustees agreed at the request of Ohio 258 resident Robert Judy to ask ODOT to place “no engine brake” signs. ODOT said a sign can be placed at each end of 258 as drivers enter the township. “It’s a start,” Judy told trustees.

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