Jefferson Township trustees and their special counsel met with the Fayette County commissioners at the county building Monday afternoon to discuss the issue of double-taxing Jefferson residents for EMS services.
In May, by a vote of 258-153, Jefferson Township’s 5-mill continuing levy for EMS passed at the primary election. Also at the primary, a county-wide 1.3-mill, three-year tax levy for ambulance and EMS services passed by a 2,326-1,688 vote. Due to the passage of both levies, residents in Jefferson Township will be double-taxed for EMS services.
This culminated in a letter being sent by special counsel Brosius, Johnson & Griggs (BJG), LLC, dated July 25, to the commissioners requesting a meeting and a response in October — saying they would be open to discussion.
Joined by Peter Griggs — with BJG, LLC — the Jefferson trustees read letters Monday to the commissioners explaining the situation and how they believe the township will be impacted from the county-wide EMS system. Within the letters, the trustees explained they had believed that commissioner Dan Dean was going to help get them exempted from the county-wide levy, that the county-wide EMS levy would not be put on the ballot at the same time they put the township levy on the ballot, and that the trustees feel the commissioners were not considering the residents of Jefferson Township when making these decisions.
“I feel grateful the people of Jefferson Township trust the decisions we make on their behalf, and I feel like my job as a trustee is to do what is best for the township and listen to our boss, which is the 2,636 citizens that reside in the township,” Ryan Yenger, Jefferson Township trustee said. “Whether I agree or disagree with issues brought before the township, it is still my job as a trustee to make sure I follow out my duty to make sure their voices are heard and acted on. The result of the election proved that the voices we heard were genuine and sincere, as 63 percent of them voted to have a better EMS system to serve their township. I would like to remind you as commissioners that the people I called my boss earlier are also your boss, and when 70 percent of them vote down the county-wide EMS levy, their voices should be heard and acted on and not let your egos overcome your decisions.”
Dean explained there were never any guarantees on his part that the township could be exempt, and he said the reason the commissioners went to the ballot when they did was out of necessity. After receiving money from other local incorporated areas within the county at a cost of $10 per capita for EMS coverage, Dean said they covered the other EMS-related costs for the year — a cost of approximately $660,000, which was lost from state funding. Moving forward though, Dean and the other commissioners said they knew they would not be able to sustain without going to the public for money.
“That is why we went to the ballot when we did because we were not going to be able to afford to continue EMS coverage in the way that it was,” Dean said. “This is why we went to all townships, villages and the city to ask for you to help, which you all agreed to at 10 dollars per capita….we appreciate that greatly. Every township we went to, and village and city, didn’t want this to be the permanent solution, and they wanted it on the ballot so it can be taken care of in the future, and we did to accommodate them. And to accommodate us because we wouldn’t be able to keep the EMS intact.”
Griggs stepped in and began to discuss what they can do to try to change the situation. After a roughly 20-minute discussion, the commissioners agreed to look at any proposal made by the special counsel, and Griggs agreed to submit one after the first of the year.
Within the proposal, Griggs — who said he would need to find specific EMS funding amounts — would request that the county reimburse the township for the money generated by their portion of the county-wide EMS levy as a contract for their EMS coverage of Jefferson Township, and the township would then lower its own levy to ensure the residents are not overpaying for EMS services.
“The notion that this has been some ego driven escapade on our part at the expense of the county or Jefferson Township is just absurd,” commissioner Tony Anderson said during the meeting. “We have done everything in our power to improve services since it was set up from the trust that the Mark family gave to the county to start the EMS program. And to sit here quietly for the third or fourth time now and listen to you talk about us having an ego problem and that we don’t care about the citizens of Jefferson Township or Fayette County is just a bit disingenuous to me. If you guys have numbers you want to discuss, write them down, put them in a document that we can define so we no longer have these concerns of, ‘Well, that’s not how I recall that conversation’ or ‘You guys did this.’ This is disingenuous to the public at large, it just is.”
One final point Anderson stressed to the Jefferson trustees was the county EMS has in the last few years started to become a more unified and coordinated service in terms of emergency response. Based on tabletop scenarios during training exercises with the Emergency Management Agency, the county has started to look better in responding to these potentially disastrous situations, and Anderson emphasized to the trustees that they do not want to see that coordinated effort wane.
Stay with the Record-Herald for more updates from the Fayette County Commissioners and the double-taxation issue in Jefferson township.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy