(Posted Nov. 21, 2018)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
The outcome of London’s 2-mill tax levy ballot issue for emergency medical services (EMS) was the subject of heated discussion at city council’s Nov. 15 meeting.
The levy failed in the Nov. 6 general election, 1,296 (45 percent)-1,576 (55 percent). In September, the city split from the Madison County Emergency Medical District (EMD) and will provide its own emergency medical services through the city fire department starting Jan. 1, 2019. The levy would have helped to fund those services.
About the levy outcome, resident Doug Pyles said to council, “If you accept this as anything but a mandate from what the residents of the city think about this program, you’ve got your heads in the sand.”
Council member Rex Castle stated that tax levies often don’t pass on the first try. He said the Nov. 6 attempt failed by a small margin, 5 percent, and that the city would have more time to educate voters on the issue prior to a second attempt.
Later in the meeting, council member Henry Comer, who opposed the split from the EMD, stated, “Since we are voted in by the people and for the people, as a council we are here as the voice of the community. We’re here to echo their wishes and not pursue our own agenda.”
He continued, “To suggest that the community is confused and picked the wrong option is another blow to their intelligence.”
Comer said the split from the EMD was designed to force the community to vote for the newly formed city-run emergency medical services.
Council member Anthony Smith rebutted, saying council listened to people’s concerns about the issue and answered their questions.
“To say that we’re pushing anything against the people is disgraceful and disgusting,” he said. “We pushed forward to save people tax dollars. That’s what we did. And we voted to make sure that people were safer.”
Council president Joe Russell said that the issue was obviously a difficult one with people on both sides. He said council made the decision to split from the EMD and is moving forward with its own services.
“People are still talking about this as if they are going to say something now that we’re going to change our mind,” Russell said. “We should all be getting behind the fire department and their efforts to be able to provide this service.”
He stated that he and other city leaders will continue to keep tabs on how the transition is going, keeping up constant communication with Fire Chief Todd Eades.
“We’re ready to move on, and I hope the city is, as well,” Russell said.
Council continues to discuss a proposal to assess fees on vacant business properties.
Comer introduced legislation last month proposing a program to identify, register and inspect vacant commercial and industrial buildings. Once a building is identified as vacant, the city would charge the property owner an initial registration fee of $400 followed by annual, escalating renewal fees. The focus would be on buildings that could become eyesores or present fire or other safety hazards.
Russell said he supports finding ways to make property owners maintain their properties but thinks fees would add another burden.
Castle wondered about the costs to the city for code enforcement. Comer said the fees are designed to cover that cost. Joe Mosier, safety-service director, said the model assumes property owners will pay the fees.
Questions also have been raised about putting a cap on fees and specific scenarios, such as strip malls with partial vacancies.
Comer agreed council needs to continue looking into the different facets of the proposal. He noted that committee discussions have generated ideas for other programs that would help business owners and spur economic development.
Both Russell and Castle said the city also needs to look into addressing vacant residential properties.
The city will not be spending $100,000 on renovations and repairs at the former Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) garage, which now houses the city’s street department, or at the fire department, which is expanding into the street department’s former space.
Council voted down legislation that would have moved funding from one fire budget line to another to pay for renovations at both sites.
“Basically, what’s happened is Bill has been able to take care of some things with your current budget,” Castle said, referring to repairs Bill Long, street superintendent, and his staff have completed in-house at the garage.
Castle added that Chief Eades does not have firm cost estimates for renovations at the fire station, so he is not ready to move forward with the work at this time.
Council passed the city budget for 2019. Castle said the numbers reflect a 4.5 percent increase in expenses, which follows previous years’ trends. As he has done in previous comments about the budget, Castle praised the administration’s track record for adhering to the budget.