Sunday 20 April 2014
 

VPA and township trustees still at odds over cost of fire protection

 

Each side has proposal for ‘fair and equitable’ service

Nearly one month after a contract deadline issued by the Ventura Fire Protection Association was missed, and almost three weeks after Clear Lake Township Trustees responded with their own proposal, there is still no agreement to provide fire service to the township after July 1, 2014.

The two parties have been at odds since the VPA announced its plan to dissolve and transfer ownership of the department to the City of Ventura at the start of the fiscal year, July 1, 2014.   In preparation for the change, late last summer the VPA 

drew up new contracts for Grant, Union and Clear Lake Townships for their sections located within the Ventura Fire District.   The new contracts reflect an increase in costs for the townships to provide for a truck replacement fund.  The Clear Lake Township would have the most dramatic increase, jumping from $11,556 to $42,551.

Clear Lake Township Trustee Scott Pederson invited residents from his township to a meeting Monday, Dec. 30, to discuss what he considers to be an unfair and inequitable request from the VPA.  

Pederson, who was elected to the trustee position 11 months ago, said he has been extensively researching the township’s population, tax levy and fire service history.  He says the VPA has not responded to requests for information and he disputes numbers being used to determine the future cost for fire service to the township.  He is suggesting a new formula be used which he said would be more “fair and equitable.”

The formula uses the average of the levy rates for fire protection for all the townships in Cerro Gordo County and multiplies that figure by the township’s property valuation, currently $159 million (not including the corporate limits of Ventura or Clear Lake). Trustees would take that figure, minus approximately $5,000 for administrative costs, and divide the remainder equally between the Clear Lake Fire Department and the VPA.  Pederson estimates that amount to be about $30,000.  He would propose the new formula be used beginning in 2015.

The VPA is basing its contract amount on the Oster Formula, a statewide standard.  In addition, the VPA says it is owed money requested for vehicle and equipment replacement; Clear Lake Township has not paid that asking since 2006, according to VPA Fire Chief John Quintus. 

Pederson maintains township trustees were never provided with requested answers to why the funds were needed and how exactly the money would be spent.  Therefore, the township only paid for fire protection, he said.  

“I would plain and simply contest that Clear Lake Township hasn’t been paying its fair share,” said Pederson.  “I admit the township has not paid specific money for vehicle replacement for the last four to five years.  We believe the VPA should provide an explanation of its need for additional funds and show accountability for their spending.”

Quintus says valuation and population numbers provided by the Cerro Gordo County Auditor’s Office which were used in the contract asking were not accurate when first provided.  Initially the Auditor’s Office said it could not precisely pull out the Clear Lake Township properties served by the VPA, so total numbers were simply cut in half.  Later, Auditor Ken Kline said the numbers could be broken out and new numbers, which result in a lower asking from the township, were available.

Quintus said the VPA has informed the township of the inaccurate numbers and is willing to use a formula which accurately reflects them after the initial year of the proposed contract.  The higher numbers would be used in 2014 since the VPA maintains it is owed money by the township.

The proposal sent by Clear Lake Township Trustees to the VPA would have the township paying $30,000 for the contract year beginning July 1, 2014.  The same offer has been sent to the Clear Lake Fire Department, which serves the eastern half of the township. 

Quintus said that proposal has been received and he expects the VPA Board to respond to the offer in the near future.  Previously the VPA stated the contract represents a bill for service and is not negotiable.

The Clear Lake Fire Department has not responded, according to Pederson.  A call to Fire Chief Doug Meyers was not received by press time.

 

“Let’s get this solved,” is how township resident Steve Nicklaus described the feelings of Clear Lake Township residents attending the Dec. 30 meeting.  He offered to arrange a meeting of representatives of the two parties to work toward a solution, but so far neither has taken that step.  “We need to leave the emotions at the door, forget the past and look to the future,” said Nicklaus.  “This is a business thing, not an emotional thing.  Nothing can be solved by not talking.”