With 2017 winding down and the city’s current contract for fire coverage with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District coming to an end on Dec. 31, Hillsboro City Council President Lee Koogler said Thursday when contacted by The Times-Gazette that he planned to call the safety and service director later in the day to ask him to pursue a contract extension.
Earlier in the day, Mel McKenzie, the safety and service director, said he was in the dark as to whether council wanted another contract, or whether it planned to carry through with approving a resolution for the city to join the district as a member after council heard a first reading of such a measure last week at its December meeting.
Koogler said he assumed McKenzie was pursuing the contract option, but McKenzie said council’s apparent interest in joining the district — based on council holding a first reading of a measure to do so — left him waiting to hear what council intended.
Later in the day, Koogler confirmed that he had spoken to McKenzie, and he said the safety director will contact Paint Creek officials to discuss a contract extension.
The city has been covered with fire protection and emergency medical services through a contract with Paint Creek since 2014, first under a one-year contract, then with a three-year extension that expires this year. The city pays about $555,000 from its general fund, an amount that varies somewhat year-to-year because it has been based on what the city would pay through property tax millage if it was a member of the district.
Townships throughout the county that belong to Paint Creek are assessed a 5.5 mill property tax, but the actual millage has usually been slightly lower due to a number of variables, county Auditor Bill Fawley said in the past.
Under its contract status, the city does not have a vote on the fire board. Council has been discussing joining as a member, which would implement the property tax within the city and free up the general fund dollars for other initiatives. Some residents, though, have said that if the city joins the district and a new property tax is levied, the city should roll back part of its income tax.
Koogler was absent due to illness from December’s council meeting, where president pro tempore Dick Donley introduced a measure prepared by Law Director Fred Beery for the city to join the district. The legislation had its first of three required readings, since Donley determined that not enough members among those present would vote to suspend the rules and pass the measure as an emergency.
Without additional meetings this month, the measure would carry over into 2018, when council will have a new makeup following the outcome of the November election. Koogler indicated Thursday that he doubted a quorum of council could be constituted over the holidays, and the subject of joining the district would more likely be taken up by the new council.
Dan Mathews, president of the Paint Creek board, said Thursday that so far no one had contacted the board about how the city intended to proceed, whether through a contract or through joining the district. But he assured city residents that coverage would continue.
“We can’t let Hillsboro not be covered,” said Mathews. “We can’t do that.” He said Hillsboro will continue to receive coverage “either way you go.”
But Mathews said he had hoped Hillsboro would join the district so it would “have a voice on what goes on.” He also said that if the city wants a contract extension, he could not guarantee the contract would be under the same terms as the current one.
“We’ll have to sit down and discuss that as a board,” said Mathews.
In a related matter, both Mathews and McKenzie agreed that negotiations on Paint Creek purchasing the city’s newer fire station, which Paint Creek is currently occupying under a lease agreement, have been productive. Both officials indicated that a resolution on that issue might come soon.
Last week, Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, while critical of council’s indecision on its intentions about coverage, said the situation “won’t have any bearing on our talks about the sale of the fire station.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.