By Randa Wagner
February 25, 2014
Gilead Township Trustees renewed their fire service contract with the Mt. Gilead Fire Department at their February 6 meeting, but it prompted questions from those in attendance.
Mt. Gilead Fire Department Chief Greg Young, Mt. Gilead Police Chief Brian Zerman, and citizen Donna Carver were present to inquire about the delay in signing the contract. The former contract expired Dec. 31, 2013, and a new contract was due January 1st to continue fire protection from the Mt. Gilead Fire Department. According to Mt. Gilead council members, Gilead Township trustees initially asked for a January 31 deadline, then a February 6 deadline.
Trustee Clyde Columber handed over the signed contract, which devoted 100 percent of levy monies to the fire department, to Chief Young. The funds are retroactive to January 1, 2014.
Discussion suggested the sticking point involves road levy monies for Gilead Township, and the question of whether the Village of Mt. Gilead, which is located in the township, should receive some of those funds for their street maintenance and repairs. Currently, they are not receiving any monies from Gilead Township for their streets.
“As a resident of the township, I would like to know why it took so long to get this fire contract signed?” asked Zerman.
“We’ve been negotiating with the village,” said Columber.
“Negotiating what?” asked Zerman. “You’ve had the contract since November. The old contract expired December 31.”
“It’s not a contract - it’s an agreement,” corrected Fiscal Officer Ric Lyle.
“But it expired the 31st of December,” Zerman continued. “So essentially, legally, from January 1 to February 6, the township hasn’t had any fire protection.”
“We had an agreement with the mayor,” said Trustee Dave Lewis.
“You can have all the agreements in the world,” responded Zerman. “Legally, the township residents haven’t had any fire protection from January 1 to February 6.”
“According to what you had down, Ric, an agreement, whether it’s verbal or not, is legal,” said Columber.
“What we got is an agreement between the village and Gilead Township trustees, an agreement can be changed anytime and can be written or verbal; it’s not a contract,” said Lyle.
“But there’s been a little discussion between the township and the village on the wording in another levy that’s getting pushed down the township’s end, and it involves the road levy,” said Columber. “Until we went through our legal advice, the village legal advice from the solicitor through our legal advice, which is the prosecutor, now they’re going to meet head to head and if they have to take it to the attorney general, cause in the wording it says roads and streets, and that’s what they are using against the township.”
“I get that,” said Zerman. “But that has nothing to do with the fire levy. That’s a completely separate issue.”
“I agree with you,” said Columber. “We talked with Greg (Young) before January 31 and after.”
“This is the way I see it, as a township resident,” Zerman said. “The contract or agreement that expired the 31st of Dec. 2013… because of some other disagreement, we haven’t been able to have an agreement signed. We’re still paying levy monies, I still have to pay the same amount of money.”
Columber said they worked out a deal with the mayor and Chief Young so they would still have fire protection until January 31 and so the trustees wouldn’t have to call a special meeting.
“Everybody sitting in this room knows that agreement expired at the end of last year, yet everybody dragged their feet over this road levy issue which has nothing to do with it,” Zerman reiterated. “Nothing! That’s a whole separate issue! So why wasn’t the agreement with the fire taken care of in a timely fashion? Nobody seems to be able to give me an answer.”
“We had the option to go with different fire departments too,” said Lewis.
“Did you know you could do that prior to Dec. 31?” asked Zerman.
“Yes we did,” replied Lewis.
“So that’s not a reason,” said Zerman.
The sometimes heated discussion went round and round for 45 minutes about the fire levy versus the road levy, why the two got tangled up together, and why the agreement was not resolved before it expired. Gilead Township does have the option to go with other fire departments if they choose to but thought they had the best fire protection with Mt. Gilead. The trustees acknowledged the issue should not have taken the direction it did.
“At no time did the trustees feel we were in jeopardy with the fire department,” said Columber. “It should never have come this far and we agree with that, and we learned a valuable lesson as elected officials for the township. We’re not going to let it happen again.”