Belpre City Council talks billing for services

Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar Welch speaks at Monday’s meeting of Belpre City Council in opposition to Issue 1, which will be on Ohio’s ballot for the Nov. 6 election. Issue 1 would reduce non-violent offenses such as drug possession and non-criminal probation violations from felonies to misdemeanors. (Photo by Wayne Towner)

BELPRE — Belpre City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance which will institute soft billing for emergency and non-emergency services by the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department.

Council member Donna Miller, chair of council’s police and fire committee, has been working on the legislation for about six months and presented the ordinance for first reading at Monday’s meeting, where it passed on a unanimous vote by all council members in attendance.

The ordinance will come back for two more readings at future council meetings.

City Law Director Tom Webster said the purpose of the ordinance is to provide a way to collect insurance money that is paid to a homeowner on top of their other insurance coverage for runs to fires or emergencies. The amount that is billed is the amount the insurance company would pay to the landowner or to the fire department for those services and is already part of what the landowner pays for as part of their insurance.

“If there is no billing to the insurance company for that money, it doesn’t get paid to anyone. In other words, it’s an obligation of the policy to pay it but if nobody bills it, it just stays in the insurance company’s coffers. Our intention is not to have an additional expense for homeowners; it’s only an amount they would already receive under their homeowners insurance,” he said.

Under the soft billing ordinance, if a person doesn’t have insurance they will not receive a bill. The money will go into the city’s general fund. The ordinance includes a schedule of fees for each type of run and service provided.

Council also heard from Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar Welch, who spoke regarding opposition to Issue 1, which will be appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot in Ohio.

Issue 1 would reduce non-violent offenses such as drug possession and non-criminal probation violations from felonies to misdemeanors.

Dyar Welch said many law enforcement, judicial and local government associations and organizations around the state have expressed opposition to Issue 1. Among the concerns is that it will shift a greater portion of the costs of dealing with drug issues from the state to the local level, which will have a negative impact on the common pleas and municipal court systems throughout the state.

It also includes sentencing guidelines which essentially strip judges of much of their discretionary power regarding penalties and consequences when defendants do not comply with court-ordered measures such as counseling, treatment and others by removing incarceration from the list of potential penalties for violations in many cases.

In other business, Council member Susan Abdella called a finance and audit committee meeting for 6 p.m. Nov. 7 for discussion of supplemental and temporary appropriations. Council unanimously approved the first reading of a resolution approving the supplemental appropriations for 2018-2019. Two more readings are required for final passage.

Mayor Mike Lorentz said he has scheduled a meeting for 1 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Belpre Municipal Building for city officials and representatives of natural gas providers and related companies to discuss the city’s inability to expand gas service and allow for more development in Belpre.

Lorentz said he has heard one side saying the size of the gas lines serving Belpre is the bottleneck to expansion, while someone else has told him there is no additional gas supply available to supply to the city. He is hoping that getting everyone in one place and talking together will help find solutions.

Lorentz said Council member Tim Gant, chair of council’s utilities committee, will attend in his place since it was the only day the gas company representatives could attend and Lorentz will be in Columbus for mandated training.