DANVILLE — As promised at their meeting Monday, the Monroe Township Trustees took their search for an alternative to their fire and EMS contract with College Township to the Eastern Knox County Joint Fire District meeting Thursday.
Asked why they were approaching EKCJFD at this time, Monroe Trustee Kevin Henthorn said it has been clear in recent years that the 50-year relationship between Monroe Township and College Township for firefighting and EMS “has been dissolving.” But he said Monroe is “excited about the future” and the potential opportunity to enter into a fire and EMS contract with the EKCJFD for the same amount per year it has offered College Township — $198,000.
Henthorn added it has simply been about “math” for him — Monroe giving more funding to the College Township Fire Department for operations, which was $125,000 a few years ago but is now $193,000, without any return to show for it, despite increasing its millage rate and having a new fire station as one of its assets. Monroe and College township had been operating under three-year contracts, but have gone to one-year contracts in recent years.
Trustee Bill Pursel said they thought their proposal of a contract, rather than joining the district, was a “good starting point” for talks.
The EKCJFD board did not immediately accept or reject the idea, but questioned the two extensively about their relationship with College and what they would expect in a relationship with EKCJFD. They also want a clearer idea of what assets Monroe would bring to the relationship.
The Monroe trustees said there is no animosity between them and College Township but, Pursel said, it had become clear they had different visions for the future. However, the trustees’ description of being “locked out of our own building” due to the presence of medical supplies, might have caused the public to believe otherwise.
Pursel didn’t spell out those differences, but he did say they were uncomfortable with the status of Kenyon’s donations to the fire department and what would happen if the college reduced or ended its donations. That situation, he said is one reason why there have been no formal discussions about forming a fire district instead of contracting for services.
He said they proposed having Gambier increase its income tax by .75 percent (instead of paying the College Township property tax). But the college trustees and Gambier Mayor Kachen Kimmel have said the proposed income tax would amount to double taxation for the village and is one of several “non-starters” proposed by Monroe. Other “non-starters” include asking for a say on fire department personnel and being asked to sign off on expenditures over $1,000.
Eastern Knox Fire Chief Larry Stimpert said there were several things to consider before possibly entering into a contract, including an inventory of all Monroe Township fire equipment, including a grass truck, a tanker truck and a rescue vehicle. Pursel and Henthorn said the other trustee, Neil Bower, has most of the information on equipment.
Stimpert said the ownership of turn-out (firefighting) gear, including tanks and suits, is important because it costs about $3,000 per fitting. The Monroe trustees were also vague about how many volunteers they could provide.
Stimpert also said a contract with Monroe would need to spell out expectations of man-hours of service. While Henthorn said any amount of service, in terms of manning the Monroe station, is acceptable as long as the Monroe station isn’t “mothballed.” Stimpert pointed out there would be a huge difference between manning the station 24 hours per day versus five hours per day. Henthorn said Monroe Township should have enough equipment for a fully-functional squad served by two firefighters also trained for emergency medical runs.
Stimert said they will also need to know run statistics for the township, distances (and run times), and they’ll have to know the condition of all equipment, including vehicles.
EKCJFD Chair Claude Gates appointed a committee, including himself, to meet with the Monroe trustees and County Prosecutor Chip McConville. EKCJFD staff will also inspect the Monroe trucks and other equipment.
It was clear the nine East Knox Board members are skeptical about working out details by the end of the year, when Monroe’s contract with College expires, a position summed up by Howard Township Trustee Joe Toth with the comment that less than two months to put a fire contract together was not enough time.
“It would be like getting into another marriage when you’re not divorced yet,” Toth said.
Stimpert also cautioned the Monroe trustees that he has long had a good relationship with College Township Fire Chief Bill Smith and he was not going to endanger that.