Lawsuit possible over EMS issues

Jefferson Twp. passes resolution to potentially sue commissioners

By Jennifer Woods -

Due to double-taxation of township residents, the Jefferson Township trustees have approved a resolution for their attorneys to “proceed with filing a lawsuit against the Fayette County Commissioners.”

Last year’s May 8 election included two EMS (emergency medical services) levies that were passed by the voters. One levy secured funding for the Fayette County Ambulance and EMS service at 1.3 mills for three years. The other levy was for Jefferson Township Ambulance and EMS service at five mills.

Due to these circumstances, property owners who live in Jefferson Township have been and will continue to be double-taxed for two different EMS services.

Jefferson Township is one of 10 townships in Fayette County—located in the northeastern part of the county. It includes Jeffersonville and part of Octa village. According to the 2010 US Census Bureau, Fayette County had a population of 29,030 and Jefferson Township had a population of 2,636.

Jefferson Township Trustee Chris Wright said, “All we wanted to do was give our township what the people wanted.” According to officials, what the people wanted was an EMS service that could reach them faster than the Fayette County EMS service.

The approval to file a lawsuit was made through a resolution at Monday’s township meeting. The Jefferson Township Trustees said that prior to the levies being voted on, Fayette County Commissioner Dan Dean said at a public meeting that Jefferson Township would be exempt from a county-wide levy.

According to Jefferson Township Trustee Ryan Yenger, their attorney suggested the lawsuit. Yenger explained he doesn’t know the details of the lawsuit such as who it will be against, and that is up to their attorney to decide.

Yenger explained that after hearing Dean’s speech during that public meeting, the trustees and others present at the meeting had spread that same information to voters. So voters went to the polls believing they wouldn’t be double taxed, Yenger said.

Yenger added that if people had realized they’d be double-taxed, they would “probably have voted differently.”

According to Fayette County Commissioner Dan Dean, this meeting took place when they were trying to come up with funding to keep the EMS service intact until a county-wide levy could be placed on the ballot. Dean was asked at the end of the meeting if Jefferson Township could be exempt from the county-wide levy if they were to form their own EMS levy. Dean explained, “I think I said, ‘I do not know the answer to that, but if you are allowed to, I would be fine with that.’”

According to Dean, he and Yenger later had a conversation explaining the commissioners were not able to exempt Jefferson Township, in which Yenger asked for the county-wide levy to be removed from the ballot. As the commissioners’ responsibility is to the entire county, they did not remove the county-wide levy as it would have left the county without EMS service. Dean said, “I don’t know what was said from there.”

Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade explained it is not the job of the prosecutor’s office to deal with the policy issues that are occurring, but solely the legality of what is brought to them. He explained in these types of issues, it is typical for both sides to come to the office asking what the other can do.

Weade said, “What we have consistently told them is the policy issue of taxation, and the policy issue of EMS districts, and the policy issue of levies are all things that have to be decided by either the trustees or the commissioners. And if they work out a resolution between the two entities, there is most likely a legal way we can get there, but they have to work out a resolution between the two of them.”

Weade also explained one potential solution going forward is a Joint EMS District. This would involve various townships and municipalities in Fayette County creating their own district, and then Jefferson Township not being a part of this joint district.

That would entail whomever gets involved having a separate board and separate EMS district from the county, meaning the commissioners would not be a part of that due to the way the EMS districts are formed.

Essentially, the commissioners, who act on behalf of the county, can create a joint district with another county. The townships can create a joint district with other townships. In other words, the commissioners cannot force or create joint districts between the townships although they can suggest it. If that were to occur, the commissioners would not be in charge of that joint district EMS service.

According to Yenger, he doesn’t know how Jefferson could form a district as they are one entity and already have their own. He said, “I don’t know who you would form the district with. Then everything would have to go back on the ballot again. We wouldn’t do that. We wouldn’t jeopardize spending all this money and then it going back on the ballot— and if it fails then what are we going to do?”

Yenger said the county can contract with Jefferson Township and it would “solve every problem”: nobody would need to form the districts, the commissioners would keep control of the EMS and the citizens wouldn’t be double-taxed.

Yenger explained the contract basically said, “You, as the county, need to pay us, Jefferson Township, what your levy brings in from Jefferson Township.” In return, Jefferson Township EMS would cover its own area, the county EMS would not enter Jefferson Township.

The contract he was referring to was mentioned in a previous Record-Herald article. The information was:

“According to the commissioners, there was a proposal to help with the double taxation. Money collected through taxes that was meant for the county-wide EMS was asked to be returned to Jefferson Township. As the county-wide levy was based off information for the entire county, including Jefferson Township, the commissioners explained they were concerned the loss of funding would cause insufficient revenue to continue providing service to the rest of the county.”

Another concern of the commissioners involved how the money would return to the actual citizens who originally paid the taxes. If the money would not get back to the citizens, they would still be double-taxed.

Yenger explained he doesn’t understand how there would be insufficient funds, as the county EMS would no longer have to cover Jeffersonville.

According to Dean, he was told by Fayette County Memorial Hospital officials they would only save an approximate $20,000-$25,000 in medical supply costs by not covering Jefferson Township. They would not save on the number of vehicles or personnel, because they need the same number they have now to continue coverage for the rest of the county. The money going back to Jeffersonville would be much greater than the amount of money saved by not covering them.

Dean said, “I feel bad about it. We’re in the process of coming up with a solution to end [the double-taxation] at the end of this levy.”

Currently, there are two potential plans being worked on by the commissioners and discussed with Washington C.H. city officials. One of which involves the possibility of the joint EMS district, and one involves a contract to go along with the next levy.

Another resolution was passed at the Jefferson Township meeting that states, “Jefferson Township does not support ANY levies county-wide or local that increases taxes until the double taxation is lifted in Jefferson township.”

When asked if this means the trustees will be telling the township how to vote, Yenger explained that it simply means the trustees will not support any levies, but the citizens can vote how they want.

A county-wide levy is approaching at the May 7 election for the Fayette County Adult Detention Facility that the commissioners, Sheriff Vernon Stanforth and others have been working on for the past few years.

Yenger said, “We’re breaking free from the county.”

The trustees are working on creating a Jefferson Township zoning board that will separate them from county zoning. Yenger explained, “We’re not going to rely on the county system there either.” They have passed a resolution that allows the Fayette County Prosecutor to move forward and place it on an upcoming ballot.”

This process can take awhile and the timeline for when it will be on the ballot is unknown.

Jeffersonville Township EMS has also re-submitted its mutual aide agreement with Fayette County Memorial Hospital. The first-responder language has been removed, which ensures when Jefferson EMS is called for mutual aide, it can take charge of the patient and take the patient where-ever needed; they won’t have to wait for Fayette County EMS to arrive.

Yenger said, “Jefferson Township is growing.” He mentioned the Menards Manufacturing’s and Distribution Plant coming in, and other facilities that want to come into Jefferson Township.

Yenger said, “We’re ready for growth, we’re ready for improvements in our area and we don’t want to be slowed down. So, we feel like we’re the ones who know what’s best for Jefferson Township, because we live there and we interact with the people in our township.”

As of April 18, there are no official plans nor has a lawsuit been filed.

Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @kenanipel.
Jefferson Twp. passes resolution to potentially sue commissioners

By Jennifer Woods