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06-05-03: Celina-Jefferson Township No agreement on fire contract

The Daily Standard
    Celina City Council and Jefferson Township Trustees still have not agreed on a contract for fire protection after a joint meeting Wednesday night.
    The council's safety committee and the three trustees did verbally agree on a contract for the current year, but the township still hasn't accepted an unbendable offer from the city for a five-year contract for the city fire department to serve Jefferson Township.
    After 90 minutes of talking, the two sides agreed to keep the payment to the city at approximately $57,267 for this year. The trustees learned city council is not willing to negotiate its request for $99,100 per year for the next five years.
    The city group, including Celina Fire Chief Doug Kuhn, Celina Auditor Pat Smith and visiting council members, continued to stress that Celina is asking for much less than the actual cost of providing fire protection to the township. The trustees reiterated that Celina has not been willing to negotiate the cost throughout discussions.
    The Celina Fire Department responds to fire calls in Jefferson, Hopewell and Center townships in addition to the city. Outside-the-city runs account for nearly 40 percent of all runs the department makes, officials say. Runs to Jefferson Township alone account for 27 percent of all runs.
    Of the fire department budget, which exceeds $900,000, the townships together paid approximately $100,000 last year and less in years past.
    Last summer, the finance committee decided to ask the townships to increase their payments by nearly 100 percent, an effort to bring the payments near actual cost. Center and Hopewell townships accepted the increase, and voters there passed new fire levies in November.
    The deal offered to Jefferson Township included increasing the 2003 payment level slightly and setting the next five years at nearly $100,000 a year with approval from the voters. Jefferson Township accepted neither, and Celina Fire Department has been responding to fires without a contract this year.
    "The city is saying our proposal of $80,000 a year isn't enough," Jefferson Township Trustee Keith Houts told the committee. "I don't understand how the city can say no if you're getting $58,000 now."
    "By agreeing to $80,000 a year, in six years we will be really at the same rate," Auditor Smith said, calculating the depreciation of millage over years.
    Trustee Dick Baucher said Celina didn't raise the cost in the past several years, and it is not the trustees fault if the city miscalculated.
    "I agree with Rick (Bachelor), over the years it should have been coming up, but you're asking us to take this bite all at once," Baucher said. "Put yourselves in our position, wouldn't you be kicking and screaming."
    The group appeared to make no real progress, except affirming that Celina's desired cost is fixed.
    "In the year plus that we've been talking, your proposal has been the same from day one," Houts said. "There hasn't been any negotiating."
    Sovinski repeated the cost of providing the service was figured and a reduced price was offered to the townships.
    "Well I guess we should have started negotiating at $150,000," council member Bob Nuding said. "I think your definition of negotiating and mine are on two different plateaus."
    "Even at $100,000, you're still well below the actual cost of providing fire protection," Bachelor said.
    The trustees brought up the point that many people from Jefferson Township work in the city and already pay income tax. Sovinski reminded the trustees that 75 percent of their constituents live in Celina, which is part of Jefferson Township.
    "We've been told this figure over and over again, with no negotiating, and what we come down to is one government entity raping another government entity," Houts said. "We've heard nothing of a compromise."
    Sovinski answered: "We're not raping a government entity here ... it's very equatable for the price of the service. If you don't like that figure ... you need to look at another option."
    Council member Collin Bryan said the city is doing the township a disservice if the issue is not resolved soon, because time is running out to get an issue on the ballot and it would be hard to create a new fire department by January.
    "If we say the figure is $100,000, you now have the opportunity to go out and price a fire station," Bryan said.
    Bachelor repeated the prices were worked out with trustee officials and Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders, and he agreed the prices were fair.
    "Isn't there any community spirit here?" Houts said at one point.
    "We're showing community spirit by not high-balling you in the first place," Sovinski said, adding that the actual labor cost to the township should be $165,000. He later said if the city backs down on its request, it sends a bad image to the townships that accepted the new deal and city residents.
    "City residents are subsidizing the cost of providing fire protection to Jefferson Township," Sovinski said. "You asked for this meeting to basically get the feeling of council on the issue, and I think the council has spoken."


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