MILLERSPORT – Walnut Township Trustees Sonny Dupler and Terry Horn spent nearly two hours at their Nov. 22 meeting discussing a draft contract with the Village of Millersport to provide fire and EMS services. Trustee Ralph Zollinger was absent, spending time with out-of-town family visiting for Thanksgiving.
Horn, who trustees previously appointed as their point person on the contract, opened the discussion by talking about EMS billing. “We need to take advantage of those funds available,” he said. Potential revenue is $197,000 to $210,000 a year, but it will take some 14 months to realize the full stream of revenue, he added.
The biggest issue is whether the township can legally bill for the services of both departments. That question had been posed to the township’s legal advisor, assistant county prosecutor Jason Dolan, but so far his only response has been another question.
It’s important because Horn doesn’t believe that the Thurston- Walnut Township Fire Department could meet the minimums set by the likely billing contractor. The department just doesn’t have enough transports. Patients are only billed if they are transported to a hospital. Being subject to the monthly minimums would significantly reduce or possibly eliminate any revenue from Thurston transports, cutting anticipated billing revenue for the township.
Horn urged Dupler to at least make an agreement in principal on moving ahead on EMS billing to demonstrate that they can work together on this highly contentious issue. Dupler wants to table it until Dolan provides an answer, but agreed to let Horn schedule a presentation from billing contractor Med 3000 as early as their regular meeting – Dec. 14. Horn distributed some 35 copies of the proposed nearly six-page contract with Millersport to the audience. “This is about the future,” he said. “This is about how we can move on together.”
Horn called it a “fair contract,” with both sides making some concessions. “There are some issues I have,” Dupler told Horn. He questioned the new language requiring Millersport to provide a fire prevention officer. Dupler backed off when fire ombudsman Billy Phillips told him that he proposed the language. Both departments would have to have a fire prevention officer which will eliminate Phillips’ very part-time job as township fire prevention officer.
Dupler also objected to removing the requirement that Millersport provide trustees with detailed run records. Horn called it a “redundant” and Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates said they are already available as public records minus personal medical information. Some of the other very detailed reporting requirements imposed on Millersport were also removed, but also drew objections from Dupler. “These are all things we have in these contracts for three years,” he said. He liked a provision requiring that signed letters of complaint about the Millersport Fire Departments must first be reviewed in an executive or closed session.
Dupler continued to object to giving Millersport five more days – from the 15th to the 20th, to provide required monthly reports. “The 15th is very adequate time.”
The draft requires that Millersport’s purchase of any item over $25,000 using fire levy money be “reviewed and coordinated by and between Walnut Township and the Village of Millersport…” Dupler had his own proposal. Any equipment purchased for more than $25,000 with fire levy funds becomes the sole property of Walnut Township. The ownership of any equipment worth $25,000 or less will be split 50:50 with Millersport. He also rejected the use of an arbitrator if the parties are unable to agree on the disposition of equipment if the contract is terminated or not renewed.
The one year notice required to terminate the four-year contract also drew fire from Dupler. “The most (notice) was 90 days,” he claimed.
Dupler didn’t like the 65 percent allocation of levy revenue to Millersport. That would give the department $646,100 next year based on the auditor’s 2011 certification of $994,000. $347,900 would be left for Thurston. “They would not exist for a very long period of time,” Dupler claimed.
Horn said Thurston’s threeperson crew 24/7 compared to Millersport’s two-person crews at their two stations puts a strain on Thurston’s finances. “The thing that makes the upset in the budget is the third person on the Thurston staff,” Horn explained. He asked Thurston Fire Chief Jim Hite to explain the need for the extra person.
“We put the third person in because we don’t have the volunteers,” he said. Baltimore (Basil Joint Fire District) and Pleasantville (Pleasant Township) don’t want us with just two people. “Baltimore uses us a lot,” Hite added.
“It seems like the third person is for mutual aid,” a resident commented. “It there is a fire, we would have to sit and wait for a third person,” Hite said. Medics can operate with two qualified EMTs, but engines require at least three firefighters.
Dupler said Thurston turned down a $1 an hour raise and used the savings toward adding the third person.
“Not running with that third man is not an option,” Thurston Mayor Mary Boring told trustees. She noted that the village has its own 2.5 mill fire levy in addition to the six mills that all township residents pay. “We’re not taking that third man off,” she declared.
Horn said, “I am comfortable with 62 percent for Millersport and 38 percent for Thurston.” That concession from 65 percent didn’t budge Dupler. He doesn’t want to consider EMS billing as revenue allocations are made nor does he want to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”
About three quarters through the nearly two-hour discussion, Dupler said, “I am suggesting we go into executive session and hammer out a contract.”
“I don’t think we have that option,” Horn. “I don’t think we can do that.”
A quick review of Ohio’s Open Meetings Act supports Horn’s opinion. There are eight permissible discussion topics for executive sessions and negotiating a contract with another governmental body is not one of them. There is no provision in law close to what Dupler wants to do in executive session.
Horn countered that trustees should meet in an open meeting with both Millersport and Thurston representatives to try to work out the new contract and levy revenue allocations. He eventually gave in to Dupler by seconding his motion that they seek an opinion from the prosecutor’s office on whether trustees can meet in secret to discuss the contract.