Saturday, June 11, 2005

Response to my letter

The first response to the letters that have been delivered to the Council and Township Trustees has been received.  It is from Dann Timmons, one of the Windham Township Trustees.  It is rather lengthy, first, giving some history of the Fire District, the EMS service, and the Township/Village relationship in the past.  I’ll post my questions inline in italics when pertinent.  I’d like to personally thank Dann for his prompt reply to my letter.

 Dear Windhamite,

     I am in receipt of your recent inquiry and I would be pleased to respond.  In order to adequately answer your questions, I need to summarize some history.


     The Windham Township Fire District is a legal entity created in 1965 to provide fire protection to Windham Township.  At that time, Windham Village was part of the township.  In 1993, the village was forced to succeed from the township.  The township fire district remained intact and continued to provide fire protection to both the village and the township.  A township fire district is legally able to provide service outside of its geographical boundaries and has the authority to place levies on the ballot for the residents of any area for which it provides services.  While this is not a common situation in Ohio, is certainly not unique.


     Over the years, the involvement of the village council has varied depending on the individuals involved.  There has generally been a written agreement that delegated certain responsibilities to the village.


     The fire district is funded mainly by two levies.  A one mil levy for operating and a one mil levy for large equipment.  The levy on the ballot last November was a replacement of the operating levy.  The large equipment levy goes back to the voters for either renewal or replacement this November.  The current levies generate about $41, 000.00 per year with the village and township contributing nearly equal amounts.  The last November levy was a replacement that allowed for an adjustment due to the increase in property values.  When the fire district receives the funds from the replacement levy, the taxpayers will be providing $51,000.00 per year.  The funds from the large equipment levy go into a separate fund and are used solely for capital purchases such as fire fighting equipment.


     The money generated by the operating levy has never been adequate to support the entire fire district budget.  Historically, under the operating agreements with the village, the firemen's pay for calls in the village were paid out of the village's general fund and firemen's pay for calls in the township were paid out of the township's general fund.  To expediate the process, the township always paid the firemen and would bill the village for their share.  In more recent years, EMT's pay was handled the same way.  Also under the old operating agreement with the village, the cost was shared for the fire chief's pay and the township contributed a sum to the village for use of the village dispatch service.  Any additional expenses was shared equally by the village and township. 


     Over the years, the fire department has had a rescue service.  This has always been firemen who were members of the department who went on and received EMT training.  Until recently, the village and township contracted separately for ambulance service with the village most recently using Action and the township using Community.  Each paid a fee for the service out of their respective general funds and the ambulance provider would be free to bill the residents who used their services.  The rescue service picked up whatever calls they could.


     The system outlined above served our community well for many years, but in the late 90s, some problems began to arise.  To begin with, the village started experiencing more and more financial difficulty and were no longer able to contribute to expenses.  As time went on, it became more difficult for the village to meet fire pay.  At one point in 2001, the village fell behind 3 years.  This was finally paid, but by the end of 2002, the village was once again behind 1 year.  This put undue pressure on the township trustees who continued to pay the firemen out of their general fund.  Another problem was fuel for the fire trucks and rescue squad.  Under the old agreement, the department would take gasoline and diesel from village tanks with the village billing the fire district.  In 2003, the village tanks began to run dry.  The fuel supplier for the village put the village on a cash only basis. For the safety of all concerned, the department began to fuel from the township tanks.  Another incident in 2001 reshaped the operation of the fire district when Community Ambulance announced that they would no longer provide service to Windham Township or Windham Village.


     In order to continue operations without seeking additional taxes from the voters, changes had to be made.  The fire district in 2002 began to bill for rescue services.  The fire department members agreed to change their constitution to allow their members to be an EMT or paramedic without being a fireman.  This allowed the department to gain some personnel to meet the challenge of the huge increase in rescue service.  Today, the fire district pays all fire department bills directly, pay the firemen, fire chief, assistant chief, EMT coordinator and EMTs without any financial contribution from the village.  The village continues to provide dispatch service for which the township trustees pay about $4, 000.00 per year from its general fund.


     To answer your questions:


1. The Village Council has stated that one of the main problems concerning the financial management of the services amounts to "taxation without representation". How are the finances of the services collected and is there financial expectation placed upon the residents of the village to support the Fire and EMS Service?


1.  The battle cry of "taxation without representation" is not completely applicable.  While village residents do not vote for trustees, they do vote for the levies.  With more voting power in the village, the trustees will always serve the best interests of the village as well as the township.  For the second part of your question, I think I fully explained the funding.  The financial expectations place on the village residents, as you put it does not go beyond the tax levies and rescue squad billing for those who use the services.  (Incidentally, after some experimentation with increased collection efforts, the trustees voted last meeting to return to "soft billing" which relies mainly on insurance.  Anyone with a balance due beyond insurance will get one bill.  Fortunately, we have some residents without insurance that paid, but for those that could not afford it, collection was not fair).


2. The various issues concerning the services provided have been discussed over a long period of time. Is there now animosity between the Trustees and the Council because of them?


2.  I personally do not feel any animosity toward Village Council members, and I seriously doubt that Brian or Howard do either.  We all live in the same community and send our children to the same school.  I have no doubt that everyone involved want the best for all of Windham.


3. What have your past proposals been with the Village concerning a Joint Operating Agreement (briefly)?


3.  I did not have much problem with the old operating agreement except that we can no longer expect the village to contribute financially.  We certainly would welcome their input on any major decisions.  We have proposed some joint committees to study and propose fund raising ideas and to project a replacement plan for the fire equipment to allow the trustees to better plan for the future.  We have a wealth of people in the community with great experience that could also serve and provide guidance.  How many years service can we reasonably expect out of the pumper?  Is the older rescue squad still reliable?  The list goes on and would need to be continually reviewed.  To date, village council has not responded to these suggestions.

4. What would you consider to be the strengths and weakness of entering into a Joint Fire District agreement with the Village?

4.  The biggest problem I see with the proposed joint fire district would be the additional expense.  This would require a separate board and a separate clerk.  The current township trustees now serve as the fire district board with the township clerk serving as the fiscal officer.  Their wages are paid by the township and they are all bonded with the township picking up the bill.  With the already tight budget, I do not see where expenses can be cut in the fire districts budget to pay the additional cost.  Another concern I have is the proposal to run the joint district with one council member, one trustee and three appointed persons.  I don't think it would be a good idea to set up a position of control of the fire district with non-elected officials.

5. If the Village would "decide on an alternative direction", how would the Fire and EMS service change for residents of the Village?

6. If the Village would "decide on an alternative direction", what would be the ramifications upon the Fire and EMS service financially?

5. and 6.  The "alternative direction" for the village would be to withdraw from the existing fire district.  The township district would remain intact but would only collect the levy money from the township residents.  The fire station is owned by the district and sits on village land subject to a long term "ground lease."  The district would retain the station subject to the lease.  Under the Ohio Revised Code, the county auditor would divide the equipment.   All I can say, there would probably be a long and expensive battle over equipment.  In my view, the effects of the village's withdrawal from the existing district would be devastating to our community.  While it would be difficult for the township fire district to operate with half of the levy money gone, it would be virtually impossible for the village to start their own department.  The tax levy would be substantial to build and equip a new station.  In addition, while the township and village share equally in tax dollars, village residents receive far more services.  I cannot see how the village residents would ever pass the levies required.  I personally remain hopeful that none of this comes to pass.  The department we have now is made up of dedicated individuals who provide a valuable service to the residents.  We have had to make major changes over the past few years to keep up with the changing times.  At times, progress has seemed painfully slow, but we are a far different department today than we were a few years ago.

     In closing, I would be happy to discuss the issues with anyone.  I hope that I have answered your questions.



                                                           Dann Timmons, Windham Township Trustee    

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