Belpre council discusses funding

BELPRE – Belpre City Council on Monday evening suspended the rules and passed multiple readings of two pieces of legislation to allow the funding changes for the fire department to occur before the end of the month.

The first and second readings of a resolution were passed to allow the mayor and safety-service director to execute a contract naming the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department as the medical provider to receive 70 percent of the funds collected by third party billing company Medical Claims Assistance (MCA) while the city will receive 30 percent.

Since the original contract began in 2009, the city has received 80 percent while the fire department has received the remaining 20 percent.

“(MCA third party billing for the fire department emergency squad runs) has been a topic of conversation for months and I believe that between the finance chair and administration it is the best method of retaining around the clock coverage for our squad,” said Mayor Mike Lorentz. “We need to act quickly so that the contract changes can be made.”

Council also passed the first two readings of an ordinance to repeal section II of the ordinance regarding the distribution of the funds from MCA to allow the fire department to continue operating with emergency medical technicians (EMTs) during the day.

For several months council has been discussing the change to the contract with MCA in order for the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department to maintain EMT services.

Currently, as the legislation is written, the money is split with 20 percent going to the fire department to help pay for new vehicles and 80 percent into the city’s general fund.

The proposed change is for the city to receive 30 percent and the fire department to receive the 70 percent, which will allow it to pay for the on-duty EMTs, squad and medical supplies.

Of the city’s cut, 20 percent will be used for fire department expenses, including payments on the new emergency squad vehicle, while the remaining 10 percent will be set aside for future purchases for new fire department vehicles or firefighters.

The 70 percent the fire department will receive will pay the EMTs and related costs.

“We are pushing the envelope to make sure things keep running when the bell rings,” Lorentz told council. “We have been discussing this for months and if you have a better idea, come out with it.”

The change was suggested by Lorentz and Safety-Service Director Dave Ferguson in September following more than a month of discussions.

In early July, representatives of the fire department announced to city council that they no longer had the funds to keep the two full-time and two part-time EMTs.

Lorentz said the reversed division of collected funds will not only cover the EMTs and medical supplies for the ambulances, but also other equipment the fire department needs to operate safely.

Representatives with the fire department said there is enough money to keep things running as they are through this month.

“As of November first, the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department will no longer have the funds to keep the EMTs,” said council President Will Neff. “So, we need to make sure we get this passed before the end of the month.”

The legislation regarding this fire department funding includes an emergency clause, which means once Neff and Lorentz sign it, it becomes binding.

The third and final readings of this legislation are expected to be held during the Oct. 28 council meeting.

Council also passed the first reading of a resolution authorizing the mayor and safety-service director to execute agreements with 601 Plaza LLC for a new fire station on Farson Street and an exchange of real estate.

The new fire station is needed as the current Farson Street building will be torn down as part of the expansion of the Marietta Memorial Health Systems facilities at Health Bridge and widening of the street.

Belpre City Law Director Tom Webster said the negotiations on the resolution to authorize the mayor and safety-service director to execute agreements for a new fire station on Farson Street were “lengthy.”

“In order to facilitate the new hospital project, we also need to do this,” Webster added.

Belpre Fire Chief Eric Sinnett said he has seen the plans for the new station and he believes it will serve the department well.

“It looks really good, what they have drawn up,” Sinnett said.

The fire department will be able to use the old station until the new one is completed, which is expected to be May 1, 2014.