WEST ELKTON — West Elkton Village Council discussed EMS contracts and concerns about upcoming Preble Shawnee ballot measures at its monthly meeting Monday, Feb. 10.
Council member Gary Thompson, who stepped down in order to run for Gratis Township Trustee in November, was re-appointed and sworn in at the top of the meeting.
Council approved a new contract for emergency medical services with Gratis EMS. The contract raised the cost of those services from $1,800 to $2,300 a year.
Former Gratis mayor David Johnston and EMS chief Joan Vance appealed to council during an August 2019 meeting, asking them not only to agree to a higher service rate, but to transfer the balance of the village’s EMS fund — approximately $12,000 — to Gratis EMS as well.
“You guys have a surplus there that we could sure use to keep us going,” Johnston said during that previous meeting.
Gratis Village Council held an emergency meeting Jan. 15 to authorize the transfer of approximately $13,000 from its general operations fund to the EMS fund to cover January payroll. Council also discussed pursuing legal action to gain access to the West Elkton EMS fund at its Jan. 23 meeting.
West Elkton council members indicated they are no longer inclined to turn over those funds, however.
“I don’t support giving them the slush fund,” Thompson said. “We need that money in case something happens.”
Mayor Gevella Wilt agreed.
“It’s our duty to the community to keep that money in case we need it,” Wilt said.
Wilt and former West Elkton mayor Fred Specht raised various concerns related to the upcoming Preble Shawnee tax levy and bond issue, including the use of public funds by the district to create literature promoting the upcoming ballot measures.
“They’re using our tax dollars to tell us how to vote, and they’ve never been called on it the entire four years they’ve been doing it to us,” Wilt said.
A five-year, .75-mill income tax levy, if passed, is expected to fund general operations costs for the school district, as well as allowing renovations to the junior and senior high school building, including upgrades to the building’s electrical system and the installation of air conditioning. A 3.75-mill, 25-year bond issue, meanwhile, will fund construction of a new PreK-5 building in Camden.
Both issues will be placed on the ballot for public vote on March 17.
Wilt took issue with the district’s plans for the funds, however.
“They’ve never used money from operating levies for maintenance to the buildings,” WIlt said. “And there are other ways to put in air conditioning without redoing the electrical system.”
Wilt claimed the school district also hasn’t addressed what will happen to the existing West Elkton elementary school building — “We don’t want it to just sit there,” Wilt said — and that community action meetings and surveys designed to solicit public input about the project did not focus adequately on residents in smaller villages.
“Not one person I know in West Elkton was talked to about that,” Wilt said. “So don’t keep telling us that ‘this is what the community wants.’”
Wilt further stated that a sewer project undertaken by the village in 2004, which the village is still in the process of paying off, would not have been approved if council had known that the school building — which accounted for the installation of 32 toilets connected to the new sewer system — was going to be closed down.
Finally, Wilt claimed that income tax funds from teachers and other school district staff who work in West Elkton will be lost to the village if a new school building is constructed in Camden.
Specht took issue with the building’s location, claiming it would make more sense for a new K-12 facility to be constructed at the site of the current junior and senior high school, which is more central to residents of the district.
“If we put it in there, we’d be the last school district in the county to have a centralized location,” Specht said. “If we put it in Camden, we’ll never have a centralized location.”
Specht also pointed out that the language of the levy and bond issue, at least as stated on the ballot, does not specify that funds will be used to renovate the junior and senior high.
Preble Shawnee Superintendent Matt Bishop attempted to respond to some of council’s concerns when reached for comment by The Register-Herald.
“We have an obligation to inform residents about the upcoming income tax levy and bond issue,” Bishop said of the school district’s use of funds to create and distribute literature about the measures. “During a recent survey, a large portion of respondents indicated a lack of knowledge of our previous levy attempts, so we’ve placed brochures at our school buildings and area businesses. We’ve also published informational pieces on our website and social media.”
Bishop also responded to the allegation of telling residents how to vote.
“Not one piece of information from the district tells or encourages residents how to vote,” Bishop said. “If there’s a claim the district is using tax dollars improperly, that is simply not true. We have vetted our communications to our residents carefully through our legal counsel.”
On the issue of the junior and senior high school renovations, Bishop said that administrators have spent a lot of time examining how to renovate the building in the most cost-effective and efficient manner.
“We trust the various contractors we’ve worked with in providing a project scope that is a quality investment of tax dollars,” Bishop said.
Bishop also spoke to concerns about the fate of the West Elkton Elementary School building if the bond issue is passed.
“We have money in the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) plan to abate and demolish West Elkton Elementary,” Bishop said. “We will not leave it to sit and decay. Once the levies are passed, we will begin conversations with village officials on how to proceed.”
Finally, Bishop spoke to the precise language contained in the ballot measures.
“The ballot language was drafted by our legal counsel, and had to be approved by the Board of Elections,” Bishop said. “There are very strict rules on what can be included. We would’ve preferred to include a lot more information about both levies, but we were unable to do so.”
West Elkton Village Council meetings take place the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m., at the village office located at 135 N . Main Street.