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How do you give $300,000 to 10 fire departments?

A request for riverboat funds for Harrison County’s 10 volunteer fire departments – $300,000 to be divided equally – is under scrutiny by the Harrison County Council.
The seven-member council is expected to make a decision at its next meeting, on Feb. 10. In the meantime, council chair Gary Davis said at Monday night’s planning session that he has two concerns:
1) “I’m not comfortable with the fact we’re giving $30,000 to each fire department, when they’re not all the same (in size and coverage area). It may be fair, but I’m not sure that it is right …,” and,
2) “Should we just give them the money and let them spend it, or have the county pay the bills?”
Davis said one solution might be to route the funds through the township trustees.
He added: “We have between now and the next meeting to resolve those issues.”
Commissioner J.R. Eckart, who chairs the board of commissioners, said the commissioners had discussed the accountability question with the fire chiefs association, who agreed the auditor’s office could pay the departments’ bills from invoices.
Eckart added: “They don’t feel we should micro-manage the fire departments, but they would have to account for the way the money is spent.
“We decided to let them manage the money.”
Lonnie Leake, president of the Harrison County Fire Chiefs Association, said the council’s concerns are legitimate, and funding can be handled however the council sees fit.
The request for equal funding was made “straight across the board,” because all the fire departments need the same safety equipment, Leake said. Outfitting one firefighter properly, with air packs, costs about $5,000.
Firefighter Jerry Gleitz, chief of the New Middletown volunteers, said the size of fire departments doesn’t make a difference in the equipment that’s needed. “We do the same as the big departments.
“When we fight house fires, we need the same equipment,” Gleitz said. “We’re expected to do the same things as paid departments.”
Palmyra chief Kevin Robbeloth said the funding “would only go back into the county in equipment.”
During the old Wenning packing plant fire Saturday night, when the temperature reached 24 degrees, some of Palmyra’s equipment was damaged by freezing water. Robbeloth estimated the damage at $3,600. “We can bill the insurance company, but … ”
The county-owned compound, which includes the old, dilapidated brick packing plant, is insured only for liability, officials said.
(Ownership of the property has reverted to the county for non-payment of taxes. Three-B Barrel and Drum Co., a barrel cleaning and salvage company, was purchasing the property under contract from the bank, said Ron Blackman of Palmyra, son of former owner-operator Alan C. Blackman.
(Ron Blackman said Monday he completed the clean-up at 3B on Dec. 4, and “everything has been disposed of in a proper manner.”
(Blackman’s father is expected to be released from prison as soon as his attorney receives “a letter of satisfaction” from the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management” and presents the documentation to the court, Ron Blackman said.
(IDEM investigator David Eiler said yesterday that the documentation has not yet been received, but as soon as it is, he will relay that information to authorities here. “The facility is empty of the solid waste that was our concern,” Eiler said. “We are trying to verify where it all went.”)
Emergency measures were taken by officials Monday night to get the burned-out structure removed from the site as a safety measure (see related story, front page).
In other matters Monday night, the council heard several requests for funding, which will likely be decided at the next council meeting on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. The requests include:
Riverboat revenue-sharing to neighboring counties, towns and Harrison County towns totaling $590,640; riverboat infrastructure funds to Harrison County towns totaling $65,960; riverboat funds for the Harrison County Highway Dept. totaling $1.75 million; riverboat funds for the county’s share of construction costs for Bridge 57, $300,000; riverboat funds for national training seminar, $6,600, and certified light meter for $300 for Harrison County Plan Commission.
The council approved an expenditure from capital outlay funds budgeted last year of $2,615 to replace the computer printer in the Harrison Township assessor’s office and about $300 to replace the FAX machine in the health department’s office.
The council tabled a request for funds to replace the copy machine which is shared by the auditor and treasurer’s offices. Prices ranged from $5,810 to $6,649 plus maintenance.
In another matter, Eckart advised the council that Bank One has asked the council if some $700,000 will be re-appropriated this year to purchase the bank building. The appropriation expired at the end of the year because a contract to purchase had not been agreed upon.
Commissioner James Goldman told the council: “You need to consider the options if you don’t buy the bank building.”