Councilmen campaign against ambulance levy after city switches to fire-EMS

One Uhrichsville councilman and a councilman from another city went door-to-door hoping to force the city to reconsider the switch


Nancy Molnar
The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio

UHRICHSVILLE, Ohio — A councilman from Dennison and another from Uhrichsville went door-to-door over the weekend to ask voters to reject the renewal of a property tax levy for ambulance service.

Dennison Council President Greg DiDonato and Uhrichsville Councilman Eric Harmon say their opposition arises from Uhrichsville's decision to switch emergency medical service providers.

An Uhrichsville councilman and a councilman from another city went door-to-door asking voters to oppose an ambulance levy after Uhrichsville switch from a private ambulance service to fire-based EMS. (Photo/Uhrichsville Firefighters IAFF Local 4265 Facebook)
An Uhrichsville councilman and a councilman from another city went door-to-door asking voters to oppose an ambulance levy after Uhrichsville switch from a private ambulance service to fire-based EMS. (Photo/Uhrichsville Firefighters IAFF Local 4265 Facebook)

Beginning April 1, the city's firefighter-paramedics will become the first to respond to medical emergencies, replacing Smith Ambulance of Dover.

Uhrichsville Councilman Michael Huff was among the city officials who took to social media to counter the opinions of Harmon and DiDonato.

"I am absolutely dumbfounded that a representative of another entity and a member of our city government would be out attempting to sabotage Uhrichsville's fire and (EMS) levy renewals," he wrote in a Facebook post.

Uhrichsville Service Director Belle Everett also took to social media to defend the levies.

"These levies support the city's Fire and EMS and have previously paid for the EMS contract between the city and Smith Ambulance," she wrote on Facebook. "The levies will continue to provide funding for the highest quality EMS services for the residents of Uhrichsville at (no additional cost).

"If these levies were to fail, there'd be no money to pay for Smith Ambulance or to properly fund the city's EMS," Everett wrote.

"We (have) to pay for (EMS) service (regardless) of who our provider is, we need the funds from the levies to do just that," Huff wrote. "Voting against these levies will put our city in a financial situation that will require drastic cuts across the board!"

DiDonato said Uhrichsville's decision to end the 20-year business relationship with Smith means that Dennison and nearby townships will have to pay more for ambulance service than the $17.75 per person per year rate the company offered them before Uhrichsville left the regional contract with Smith.

Both Harmon and DiDonato said the decision by a majority of Uhrichsville City Council members to bring ambulance service in-house is fiscally irresponsible.

"This is an issue that affects a region of 12,000 people," Harmon said in a prepared statement. "Many of the residents I represent have friends, family members, and colleagues that live and work in the surrounding townships and the Village of Dennison.

"While I respect the fire department, I did not support this decision from the beginning and will not be going along with what I believe to be a flawed plan that will continue to drive up the cost of an ambulance service for the taxpayers of Uhrichsville," Harmon said.

Harmon said that if the ambulance levy fails in the primary election, officials could meet again to decide whether to use a private ambulance company as part of a regional contract with Dennison, Tuscarawas and nearby townships. He envisions such a meeting occurring before a general election vote on the same issue in November.

Collections on the levy are scheduled to continue through this year. Collections on the renewal would begin on property tax bills due in 2021.

The 20-year-old emergency medical services levy was passed to pay for Smith Ambulance to cover Uhrichsville, Harmon said.

Moving the responsibility for ambulances from Smith to the fire department means the city's appropriation for EMS will rise from $80,000 to $309,000 this year, Harmon said.

The 2.85-mill emergency medical services levy raises about $130,000 a year and costs the owner of $50,000 home about $26 a year, according to city Auditor Julie Pearch.

Also on the ballot is a 2-mill levy for the purchase of fire equipment that costs the owner of $50,000 home $25 a year and generates about $106,000 to $110,000, according to Pearch.

Everett said that previously, Smith Ambulance relied on Uhrichsville to subsidize the village of Dennison and adjacent townships by providing backup ambulances for free.

She said DiDonato and Harmon were asking Uhrichsville residents to vote no on both levies for the fire department.

"The voters of Uhrichsville are perfectly capable of making a decision on what's best for themselves," Everett wrote. "It's insulting that DiDonato thinks that the residents of Uhrichsville are incapable of making up their minds without his outside input. The city council voted to discontinue using Smith Ambulance as their EMS provider. Greg DiDonato seems determined to undermine the city's decision."

"These levies have been in place for two decades," Huff wrote. "More importantly, in the present situation, this is the (last) thing our first responders should be worried about!

"They have been charged with a duty most of us wouldn't accept, and should be able to focus on such. Politics has a place, and that is in council chambers! Not on the street actively working against our brothers and sisters in uniform."

Huff said Harmon and DiDonato are spreading misinformation.

"Voting no will (not) bring Smith's back to the city," Huff wrote. "Uhrichsville (on multiple occasions) offered their services to the surrounding villages and townships and most turned us down."

Uhrichsville Councilman Jim Zucal criticized what he characterized as other Uhrichsville officials "bullying" Harmon and DiDonato on social media.

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©2020 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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