The 2.0 mill five-year levy that supports emergency services in Morrow County is up for renewal on this November’s ballot. Also on the ballot is a 0.5 mill additional EMS levy, to address costs associated with future improvements.
The placement of the 0.5 mill levy was passed Monday by Morrow County Commissioners. A discussion over its necessity took place July 23 when commissioners requested a current tax valuation for the 0.5 mill, 5 year additional tax levy from Morrow County Auditor Mary Holtrey.
Commissioner Dick Miller explained the additional levy was being considered for capital improvements, such as equipment replacements and possible station relocations to work towards an eight-minute response time to 90% of county residents.
Though Commissioner Tom Harden voted ‘yes’ to getting the tax valuation for the 0.5 mill levy “just to see what it will bring in,” he voted ‘no’ on July 23 to the renewal of the 2 mill 5 year levy that supports emergency services in the county.
He questioned whether 2 mills would cover the contract being negotiated with MedFlight, since there was no final figure yet (the contract is under negotiation at this time, but issues to go on the fall ballot had to be in by Aug. 6).
“I said we are very close to 2 mills to get everything we want,” Miller told Harden. “We’re not 100 percent, so we need the option of putting the half mill levy on.”
“We have to be cognizant that, rather than ask for one large levy that would be a replacement levy, by doing this it gives the voters the opportunity to approve [the 2 mill levy] and decide on the other,” Commissioner Tom Whiston clarified. “It’s prudent to have a renewal levy on rather than a higher levy on.”
Morrow County Auditor Mary Holtrey reported a 2 mill levy, at current valuations, will bring in $1,370.624.00. Harden questioned how they could be sure it would be enough, when they didn’t have an operating amount yet from MedFlight. Miller responded that, in the past, the Morrow County Firefighters and Squadsmens Association accepted the bid for the entire amount the levy generated without submitting a dollar figure, and operated for 40+ years that way.
It was suggested by a resident the commissioners were ‘disbanding’ Morrow County EMS and commissioners were going into contract negotiations not knowing what services cost in the county,
“We did not set out to disband anything,” Miller responded. “We set out to issue an RFP. [Through] the array of people who provide EMS services throughout the state of Ohio, we made a very clear examination of what we thought we wanted to do and we asked for proposals. That’s what we’re charged with doing [through] the Ohio Revised Code.”
Commissioners are responsible for emergency medical services in the county, said Miller, and “if we’re doing our job, we have to determine what we need and put out an RFP. Everybody submitted their proposals - We are not disbanding anything.”
“They [Squadsmens Assoc.] going to go away, aren’t they?” asked the resident.
“That’s not our prerogative,” said Whiston. “They’re an entity a 501c organization and, from the standpoint of what they do, that’s not a prerogative of the commissioners.”
“We went through the process that we’re required to do,” Miller reiterated. “We took bids for the first time in forty years and we had more than one bidder. We advertised it widely and we have offered the people of Morrow County improved services. There are people who think everything should go on as it has, but if you don’t intervene and ask for what you believe your citizens should have (i.e. eight minute response time, appropriate station location based on demographic changes and the fact we have 18 miles of Interstate 71, and lots of visitors that we owe…) better than 20 minute response time to, we owe the citizens pre-arrival instructions and then we owe it to the citizens to find out what that would cost. That’s the way it works. I have been unable to find out what’s wrong with that process.”
Whiston said the commissioners received bids ranging from no charge for 911 services from Knox County to the Squadsmens Association’s bid of 3.5 mills to fulfill the RFP requirements.
“Even the bidder is not sure of all costs or what may happen, such as the cost increase on equipment or the impact of when a union is involved,” Whiston stated. “But I do think we do know, from the standpoint of the costs they have, if all the entities wanted to maintain the service at the level that it was, they could do so with two mills. Is that going to be completely adequate? Probably not. As we go forward and continue to grow, are we going to need additional equipment and facilities? Probably will, and those costs won’t go down. There’s the need to have an additional levy.”
Harden was not comfortable voting for a renewal when he did not have a solid figure from Medflight, and abstained from the 2 mill vote.
“Do you have a basis for the abstention?” asked Whiston.
“I don’t agree with it, that’s my reason,” said Harden. “I don’t think we know how much it’s going to cost. If the [contract] comes in higher than the 2 mill levy, what are we going to do?”
At the Aug. 4 regular meeting, Big Walnut Joint Fire District Chief Keith Ernsberger said he and other fire chiefs in the county have felt ‘very uninvolved’ in the discussions taking place in recent months regarding station relocations and related issues. Talks of a station being built in Chester Township, which is under his jurisdiction, have never included him, he said.
“What we’re trying to do is put together a committee, and need a fire chief to look at this station relocation plan,” Miller said. “We’re looking for someone to help us with the entire county, and have a couple of people in mind. We’re looking at about five people with specific knowledge to help us determine the best plan.”
Miller said after the contract is settled, for now, the EMS personnel will likely stay where they are and the commissioners will be ‘working their way through’ the locations.
“That needs to be negotiated with me,” Ernsberger said. “We own the building,” referring to the squad at BWJFD.
Ernsberger said the Ohio Revised Code is very vague on anything EMS. Generally, he said, in any type of emergency, the fire chief is in charge of it (on the scene).
As far as contracting for facilities, Whiston said, “We don’t do that. We have a contract for someone to supply the services.” He said that would be the responsibility of the Morrow County Emergency Services.
The commissioners expected to be settling on a contract with MedFlight in the next week.
Reach Randa Wagner at 419-946-3010, ext. 1803 or on Twitter @ MorrCoSentinel.