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City Will Retry Paramedic Levy, Mayor Cites Misunderstanding

Law says revenue from insurance billing must go into General Fund.

UPDATED 9:33 am: Avon Lake Fire Chief Glenn Eisenhardt provided the bolded information.

Greg Zilka confirmed that paperwork is in order to place the failed firefighter/paramedic levy back on the ballot for the November General Election, if it’s determined after absentee votes are counted, the measure still failed.

“I was very disappointed,” Zilka said the day after the issue came up 14 votes short of passing. The count is still unofficial and may be subject to a recount. “We need to do a better job clarifying the issue.”

 The city voted on July 9 to place the item on the November ballot if it failed at the Aug. 7 Special Election. Clerk of Courts Barbara Dobb submitted the paperwork, due Aug. 8, to the Lorain County Board of Elections.

Zilka felt that misinformation, a low voter turnout and a misunderstanding by some in the public might have contributed to the levy’s demise, especially concerning “soft billing,” where an individual’s insurance company is billed for ambulance rides. Last year soft billing generated $390,000 that went into the city’s General Fund.

“There is a misunderstanding that soft billing is not being used for paramedic expenses,” Zilka said. “By law it must go into the General Fund. But more than that amount was spent (from the General Fund) on the paramedic system.”

Zilka said that the city must do a better job establish and clarifying that the

The general fund subsidizes operations by 61.1 percent. 

"The fire deposits close to $400,000 into the general fund (through soft billing) and withdrawals $2,481,333.42 for fire and paramedic expenses," Eisenhardt said in an email. "The soft billing does subsidize the paramedic service."

The mayor said he was frustrated after receiving two “robocalls” at his house in the week leading up to the election urging voters not to support the levy.

“The robocall didn’t have a disclaimer,” Zilka said. “We Didn’t know who it was or who paid for it. It was disappointing.”

He noted the second call was cut off and a technical glitch may have prevented the required information, including who was paying for the call.

 Zilka also said that the city and would have a contingency plan in place if the November issue fails as well.

“This isn’t a scare tactic,” Zilka said. “It would be irresponsible to wait until after the levy. We have to develop a plan in advance and it’s not to scare people, but we need to have one.  We just have to do it. We have to work on an alternative plan.

“It’s a quality of life issue.”

Charter Amendment Will Not Go On Ballot

A charter amendment requiring the Board of Municipal Utilities to meet on a different night than council that received tacit support will not go back on the November ballot.

Chief Utilities Executive Todd Danielson in November after it narrowly passed, but Avon Lake Council did not pass legislation to move the item to the Lorain County Board of Elections by the Aug. 8 deadline.

It’s got to be voted through by City Council and it has to be presented to the board of election by today,” Councilman Larry Meiners said on Aug. 8. “Todd might not understand the process that it has to go through city council, which is on break through Aug. 20.

“There’s no way possible it can be put back on the November ballot. “

Greg Zilka August 10, 2012 at 12:19 PM
To clarify a point, 72% of the fire department runs are EMS related and the paramedic levy pays for only eight of the salaries of paramedic/firefighters. The levy also pays for equipment, vehicles and supplies. The true cost of the service should be 72% of the 28 member staff, or 20 firefighters. The money to pay for the 12 additional paramedics comes from the general fund and that exceeds the $390,000 collected from the "soft billing".
AvonLaker1234 August 10, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Mr Zilka, if you take a look around the country, especially in some Western states, they form fire/EMS districts whereas several communities cooperate and have shared resources. In today's era it seems silly to continue with each city keeping their own dedicated forces. I understand the city performed some minor due diligence in the past but I believe we strong leadership to drive this.
Noah Webster August 10, 2012 at 02:18 PM
thank you 1234. I have raised this same point with city officials because that's how St Louis County Missouri is organized. I have consistently argued that Avon Lake is too small to take advantage of economies of scale and coverage available with a district approach. Our neighboring communities, Bay,Rocky etc are moving ahead with plans for a consolidated fire protection system. Thank you for making your voice heard. There are many others who want this change to happen, and soon.
Noah Webster August 10, 2012 at 03:20 PM
So, why not simply earmark the insurance collections for the fire department ? The chief's percentage allocation calculation only proves that insurance collections are not earmarked for the fire department. The percentage he calculates can vary depending on general fund financial priorities. My position has been consistent. Taxpayer's health insurance and Medicare benefits should be used only to support the fire/EMS services and they are not. Taxpayers do not pay health insurance and Medicare premiums to have their benefits used to pay general city expenses for which they pay income taxes ? And the city wants to increase your EMS tax 60%. Why ? Because it funds EMS, as the levy ballot says, so more or possibly all of the insurance collections can be used to pay general fund city expenses that are already supposed to be paid by your income taxes. Soft-billing for insurance benefits was passed as "emergency" legislation to get taxpayer insurance benefits to help cover the budget shortfalls. And you taxpayers never knew it did you. this scheme is wrong and not fair dealing with taxpayers. It's time to tell City Council to stop taking taxpayer health and Medicare benefits and start managing the out of control spending. The fair and reasonable solution is to earmark taxpayer insurance collections to support fire/EMS exclusively and offer a reasonable replacement levy like 1.5 mils. Stop all these needless shenanigans and threats.
Noah Webster August 10, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Taxpayers. Do you know that in addition to the taxes you pay for EMS services, you are also held financially responsible for all EMS charges when you are transported, past, present and future. Yes, that's exactly what is printed on the form you or your designee signs at the time of service. I have a copy of the form. If anyone tells you that you are not financially responsible then ask them why they have the form that says you are.
John P August 10, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Noah - are you serious when you say we should model our EMS service to st louis? I grew up in North Clayton (st louis county) and recently re-located to Westlake for business. Do you remember the st louis paramedic convicted of rape and sodomy of the teenage boy last year? Im pretty sure st louis at least dropped the ball on employee screening in this case. I read an article in the plain dealer that said some of the west-side cuyahouga suburbs want to take a "regional approach" to fire and ems service. Well, i can tell you first-hand what regional means. It means like St. louis county. And that scares the h*ll out of me. http://www.kmov.com/news/crime/St-Louis-paramedic-charged-with-sex-crimes-against-teen-he-met-through-Facebook-119079194.html
Noah Webster August 10, 2012 at 04:48 PM
You cannot make a judgement about a service based on one person. I understand off course share your concern but the fact of life is that mistakes happen and we hope to learn and do things better. But I don't know how often you get back to St Louis County and particularly beyond 270 but they have excellent district wide services as in West County where we hail from. And lower taxes.
Noah Webster August 10, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Bethany it will be in your best interest to apologize for your mistake and withdraw this information. Otherwise I will take stronger action. Your research failed to determine if that case is in fact referring to me which it does not. Perhaps in your misguided zeal you did not check to see if there are others with the same name. Again, take it down and correct your statement immediately.
Lori E. Switaj August 10, 2012 at 05:35 PM
A comment has been deleted due to incorrect information.
Noah Webster August 10, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Mayor Zilka: We who have done our homework know the soft-billing does not cover the full budget. However, a smaller 1.5 mil replacement levy with the insurance collections earmarked for the fire department would fully fund the EMS budget with $80,000 to spare. So we would have a fair tax and taxpayers insurance benefits would be used for what they are intended, EMS services and nobody would lose a job and we could all claim victory and move on to other matters.
Lori E. Switaj August 10, 2012 at 06:02 PM
All comments on this thread have been moved to "moderation" and will require approval before being posted.
confused in AL August 12, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Mr. "Webster", I am trying to determine what expertise you have in running a fire dept. of any kind, volunteer or full-time. Are you a retired fire chief or fire officer? Have you ever been a firefighter or paramedic? You speak of how well run St. Louis County is in regards to their fire and ems service. A simple search of St. Louis County government led me to their site and I found a great map showing the 23 fire districts and 21 municiple fire depts. including the city of St, Louis.That doesn't look like a regional approach to me. Reading further, the districts were formed in the 40's 50's and early 60's when livestock outnumbered humans in the outskirts of St. Louis. Today, those districts protect large populations and function as full time fire depts. They just receive their funding from a different taxing authority.
Noah Webster August 13, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Chief's Comment. You miss the point. I know in your view Fire and EMS is one in the same from a day to day management perspective. However, this about the EMS tax levy increase not the fire department that is funded from the General Fund. The fact is that there is no accounting to show how much of the insurance collections are applied by the Fire Dept to EMS expenses. All health and Medicare insurance collection should be earmarked to support EMS directly so we can determine how much of a tax increase is needed to fund the EMS budget. That difference is what the tax levy should fill. Further if there is 60% increase in the EMS tax levy, how much insurance collections will be needed for EMS. If none is needed then the EMS levy increase is not really for EMS. If this is true then soft billing is collecting $390,000 or so, is for the general fund expenses and only the 61% you stated that is spent for the Fire Department. Taxpayers don't pay health insurance and Medicare premiums so their benefits are used to pay for the fire department and mowing lawns or pay raises. That is wrong and not fair to taxpayers.
Noah Webster August 13, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Confused in AL. I lived in St Louis County for 32 years. Regional approaches can comprise all variety of consolidations. Small municipalities like the size of Avon Lake were consolidated into Districts. Most of West County communities are now consolidated. Actually many were consolidated over time past the 60's. Other larger cities like some Clayton,Mo are large enough and have the economic base to support their municipal services. It helps to have lived through the process to have a good understanding of the advantages. And yes, the district-wide taxing authority helps spread the burden over a wide economic base. So the whole district benefits from the big malls and the consolidated economic base. Here, Avon has all the commercial tax base, paid for with many of our dollars but it does nothing to help fund our fire protection. Does that make sense ? No. And that's why St Louis County and many American communities have consolidated or are in the process. It's not just a different taxing authority, it's a whole different and smarter way to tax and provide a common level of services throughout the district.
Erin M August 14, 2012 at 04:54 PM
I am noticing a trend on this site, if Ms. Switaj doesn't like your comment or thinks you are being disrespectful she will delete your post. And now that this thread is in moderation, I am sure she will not post this either.
Lori E. Switaj August 14, 2012 at 05:03 PM
EM, if a term violates our terms of use (http://avon-oh.patch.com/terms) it will be removed. One comment on this thread, which contained inaccurate information, was removed after I consulted with several parties involved. Please note: Cross posted articles (those on other Patch sites as well as this one) can also have comments deleted by other editors. It is not an issue of whether I "like" a comment or not.
joe mama October 31, 2012 at 10:17 AM
If we miss handle are funds as citizens and home owners we have to tighten our belts and so should our local government. Please stop covering up the fact that the levy is for a general fund shortage and stop threatening the city with cuts to our safety services and make the necessary operational cuts and balance to budget.

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