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Mayor breaks tie to approve township fire contract

HEBRON – Mayor Clifford Mason broke a 3-3 tie vote Dec. 12 to approve a motion directing the village solicitor to draft a resolution to approve a contract to provide fire/EMS services to Union Township in 2013.

The current two-year contract to cover the unincorporated portions of the township south of the Columbus & Ohio River Railroad tracks expires at the end of the year. In recent years, the township has been paying 60 percent of the Hebron Fire Department’s operating expenses. That share was roughly $625,000 this year. It is projected to be $645,000 in 2013.

Trustee Rick Black, Township Administrator Paula Green and township fiscal officer Jessica Slater met with Hebron’s Safety Committee three times. From the first meeting, Black told Hebron officials that the township could only afford to pay $420,000 for services in 2013. He said the township’s two fire levies that total 3.3 mills will generate a just over $500,000 in 2013. After taking out $80,000 for the second year of the township’s two-year contract with Granville Township Fire Department to cover the portion of the township north of the railroad, Black said that left $420,000 for Hebron. Black initially claimed that auditors told the township that it could not use general revenue funds to supplement the income from the fire levies. After Hebron officials questioned his claim and asked to see the directive, Black acknowledged that the fund could be used but “it shouldn’t be.”

Black also said the township’s former fiscal officer led trustees to believe the township had more money than it did. The township’s most recent audit (two years ending Dec. 31, 2011) by the State Auditor’s Office included 10 Findings including a “material weakness.” The report did not absolve trustees of responsibility for the financial management problems found during the audit. The report stated, “Additionally, proper Board monitoring was not performed to determine that the required records were even being maintained…It is the Trustees’ responsibility to develop effective control policies and procedures to monitor reports and check to determine that related documents agree. It is important for the Trustees to develop effective control policies and procedures to monitor financial activity closely…”

Black added that had trustees understood the township’s financial situation, they probably wouldn’t have agreed to the contract that is now expiring. Committee members asked Black if trustees plan to ask township voters to approve an additional fire levy next year. Hebron property owners pay six mills for fire/ EMS services, compared to just 3.3 mills in the township. Black would only commit to talking to homeowners’ associations about the issue.

At the Dec. 12 council meeting, council member Pam DeVaul asked if trustees had been asked for more money. “They have been asked numerous times,” Mason said. He acknowledged that he understands that Union Township has about $900,000 in its general revenue fund that could be used to make up the $230,000 shortfall in 2013.

“There are no laws that prohibit it (using general revenue funds); that’s their choice,” he said. “First, they said the auditor told them they couldn’t but now they agree its their choice.”

The proposed contract does direct all EMS billing revenue to Hebron. That’s been a major point of contention in previous contract negotiation with the township demanding EMS billing revenue generated within the contract area. The township used that revenue to help pay its contractual obligations to Hebron. Hebron also wanted the new contract to require the township to pay at least some of the cost of repairs to township owned equipment – two medics and an engine. That language was removed after an assistant county prosecutor representing the township said the contract couldn’t include an open-ended requirement. “They did state they would help us,” Mason told council.

After adding in the estimated EMS billing revenue from the contract area, Union Township would be funding about 42 percent of the department’s operating expenses next year, down from the current 60 percent.

“I don’t think it is too much to ask them for a 50:50 deal,” council and Safety Committee member Jim Friend said. “They (Union Township) could go elsewhere,” council member Bob Gilbert said.

Mason said the department can operate with current staffing at the reduced township funding through 2013. “There is no fluff,” he added. Overtime will have to be significantly reduced and there is no money available for capital improvements. The village will also have to use most of its EMS billing revenue that had been setaside for capital improvements.

“We can’t operate without $420,000,” Mason stressed. Committee chair Annelle Porter said the township’s $420,000 is considerably better than zero or something less.

Friend pointed out that the fire department would have to make significant cuts in 2014 if the township doesn’t increase its support to previous levels. “We can’t continue at $420,000,” he emphasized. Mason said the new contract says both sides must meet before June 30 next year to begin negotiations for future contracts. He wants wants to meet even earlier.

Porter moved to accept the township’s offer of $420,000 for 2013 and Gilbert seconded her motion. Council members Alayna Morris, Gilbert and Porter voted “yes” with Scott Walters, DeVaul and Friend voting “no.” Mason broke the tie with a “yes” vote. The issue will come before council members again on Dec. 26 on the resolution to execute the agreement with Union Township.

In other business, council members unanimously agreed to purchase a new Horton medic on a Ford F-550 chassis for $187,699. Most of the purchase will be financed with a loan from Park National Bank. The new medic should be delivered in May-June 2013. Both existing medics are owned by Union Township and “have some miles” on them.

Mason also updated council members on status of the Apex Pipeline routing. Enterprise Products Partners are currently routing their proposed multi-state ethane pipeline through a portion of the village. He said the village’s special counsel is talking with Enterprise to encourage them to move the routing away from the village due to the high cost to compensate Hebron for the loss of its water aquifer and water treatment plant should an accident occur. “It would be cost prohibitive to build in the village,” Mason explained.

Council’s next regular meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 26.

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