PERRY TOWNSHIP – Two newly elected Perry Township Board of Trustees members already are facing their first tough issue. Jason Hartshorn and Mindi Wynne, along with incumbent board president Melissa Mears, are dealing with the upcoming deadline for signing new fire/EMS service contracts with the city of Brookville and the village of New Lebanon. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to foot the bill.
Although the deadline to renew the contracts is March 31, Brookville Fire Chief Ron Fletcher said he wanted to pull this meeting together in advance to allow time to deal with any issues.
Fletcher and Brookville City Manager Sonja Keaton were at a special meeting held last Wednesday morning at the township’s building to represent Brookville while New Lebanon Fire Chief J.C. Keyser and Municipal Manager Glena Madden were there for New Lebanon.
Fletcher explained that each of the two departments cover 18 square miles of Perry Township.
Formerly, both departments regarded Amity Road as the coverage dividing line, with New Lebanon covering the south side of the road and Brookville serving the north side.
“We have made an agreement that we (Brookville) would cover all of Amity Road to keep it in our jurisdiction. It also works better for the dispatch system,” Fletcher said
Preventing the township to just go ahead with the contract is a perceived shortage of funds.
Fletcher suggested an additional levy to their current levy as a possible way for the township to pay for the services, but township board president Melissa Mears is not convinced that would work out, since residents already are putting out money for the current levy.
Trustees wanted to know what would happen if the suggested levy failed on the ballot should there be a cardiac arrest or similar emergency?
“Even if we don’t contract with you, we have no intention of letting anyone in need go without care,” said Fletcher.
However, there is a need for both communities to have adequate coverage, so the discussion continued.
“If you have an emergency, your contract says you’re going to get the services you are paying for. If you need a medic at your house, with the policy you paid for, you’re going to get an ambulance there…you’re going to get a firetruck there,” Fletcher said.
Trustees asked about the possibility of paying per call.
Keyser said, “In terms of costs of operating a fire department, you’re going to get a run volume. If we come into the township 50 times a month or if we come into the township five times, there are operating costs of running the department, whether we have a call or not. We still have to have staff, equipment, maintenance of the building and utilities…so if we are going to get paid by call only, you’re not bringing any of that or operating costs into the equation,” Keyser said.
Fletcher pointed out his department has direct costs to point to in only the incorporated areas that he maintains.
“It’s not a money-making opportunity with the city providing services. In our case, it’s a money-losing proposition — but it always has been.
“Very rarely is the levy tax ever paying the costs and then some. Typically, we get back to where we are even. We need supplemental assistance,” Fletcher said.
“The other point I would make is that if you want the pay-per-call system, the formula would be another can of worms that would be a difficult task,” he said.
He later said that Perry Township gets a “sweetheart deal” from the standpoint that the township doesn’t have to maintain a whole fire department of its own and they pay a fraction of what Brookville’s costs are.
The suggestion of a having only a volunteer fire department like in former times doesn’t work because people don’t want to respond to calls to be there every time there’s a call, Fletcher said.
The situation is frustrating for all involved in the discussion.
“The levy might not go so well,” said Wynne. “We can’t count on the levy passing, and we literally don’t have the budget to pay the expense. We need to come to a resolution on it.”
Keyser said one of the biggest issues he has found in his short time as fire chief is “putting a band aid on a gaping wound.”
“I know they don’t have an additional $87 a year on (property) taxes, but what is the cost of not having the protection? They see what can happen and the tornados are a great example,” he said.
The trustees agreed they need to have some time to work together on a solution to pay for the fire/EMS service contract and plan to meet with the fire officials again soon.
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