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Township, town to act on fire departments’ merger Monday

The Corydon Town Council will hold a special public hearing Monday night at 7:30 at Town Hall with Harrison Township Trustee Cecil Trobaugh and his advisory board to discuss the proposed plan to ‘merge’ the town’s volunteer fire department and its equipment with the township department.
A number of Corydon firefighters are expected to attend with their attorney, Stan Faith, who will address their concerns, said former assistant chief Ron Melton. They have been going door-to-door, criticizing the proposed ordinance that would allow the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Dept. to provide fire protection services to the town and asking residents to sign a petition. New chief William Jennings said they have collected 526 signatures in two weeks or less.
Several firefighters, including Melton, Jennings and former chief Kevin Barrow, attended Monday night’s town council meeting but left without speaking. They were not on the agenda.
Earlier this month, they asked how the merger would save the town or taxpayers money. Town council president Fred Cammack and town trustee Roy McKim said it would lower the town’s tax rate, lower insurance costs and fire protection ratings, and eliminate the cost of operating a fire department.
The trustees believe the township department, which is located on S.R. 337 in town, has better equipment and facilities. They think that as the area continues to grow full-time paid firefighters will be needed.
Karen Lopp, who attended the earlier meeting at which Corydon firefighters aired their grievances, asked the council Monday night if there were any plans to discuss the proposed merger before the public. She was told a public hearing would be held Monday night at Town Hall.
After the meeting, she said she doesn’t care how the issue turns out, she’s only interested in fairness and what’s best for the community. ‘They (the council) sneaked it up on us. No one in town or the township knew about this until a couple of weeks ago. I’d just like to see things done right,’ said the former South Harrison Community School Corp. board member.
‘I’ll be here June 30. I’m just interested.’
Corydon volunteer firefighters feel they have not been appreciated and had no input in the discussions between the town council, led by Cammack, and Trobaugh and his board. They feel the council has not fully supported their requests to obtain grant money for new equipment, which might have improved the town’s fire rating.
Melton said the firefighters didn’t know about the proposed merger until they read about it recently in this newspaper.
Cammack said the town trustees have been pondering such a move for years; however, it has not been discussed formally as an agenda item at any recent town council meetings. It was discussed many times in 1996 and ’97, and Cammack gave firefighters written answers to their questions about the possibility of a merger in February of 1997.
Cammack said everyone he talks with tells him the merger is a good idea and long overdue. ‘There’s no point in having two fire departments within half a mile of each other,’ he said again last week. A merger will result in savings in insurance and perhaps a better fire rating for the town.
Melton said Corydon firefighters have been going house-to-house, telling residents that the language in the proposed contract ‘doesn’t amount to anything, doesn’t bind the two parties to anything, and that either party can get out of the contract at any time and leave the other party high and dry. It should be binding so that the town has some legal recourse. From what we’ve seen, there’s just nothing there.’
Jennings said the contract says the township will provide fire protection to the town without a written contract, and it only runs from July 1 to Dec. 31 of this year.
Town attorney Ron Simpson says that’s not correct. He has prepared a written contract for that period. After Jan. 1, the fire protection, plus the change in town and township tax rates, will be governed by state statute, thus a written contract will not be necessary.
Jennings said he wants to keep the citizens informed, and ‘our biggest objective is to provide the citizens with the best fire protection.’ He said he wants to ‘sit down with everyone involved like adults for the benefit of everyone in the community. They’re the people that we serve.’
He said he hopes the meeting Monday night might lead to that.
Melton said the petition asks people to support their opposition to the new ordinance and resolution. He said the firefighters have been met with ‘overwhelming support. The people are shocked and surprised at this; they didn’t know anything about this, and didn’t have a chance to think about it.’
‘I don’t know where Cammack’s support is,’ Melton said, ‘and I haven’t figured out what the problem is.’
Seven Corydon firefighters have already applied for positions with the township department. The screening application process has been waived for Corydon firefighters. They will automatically be welcomed on the township department, said township trustee Trobaugh.