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Boone fire department hopes third time’s a house

David Kocka, president of the Boone Township Fire District trustees, likes to make sure he has everyone’s attention when speaking in public.
And when he suggested Monday night that the Harrison County Commissioners nearly double their funding commitment to a new Boone Township firehouse and tossed in a proposal for a mini-ethanol plant to be operated on department grounds, the commissioners didn’t miss a word.
Commissioner Jim Heitkemper was familiar with the ethanol plant vision and was verbally supportive of the concept, but the other two were less receptive.
‘I think what we need to do is talk about firehouses. I think what you’re talking about is a pipe dream,’ said Commissioner James Goldman.
‘I think you just picked up one vote and lost two,’ chairman J.R. Eckart said.
During an interview yesterday (Tuesday), Kocka said he didn’t expect to make headway with the ethanol plant nor did he expect the commissioners would increase the $350,000 they’ve already committed to the project to $670,000.
What he did hope for was the commissioners’ continued support for the project while his district applies for a dollar-for-dollar match through the Indiana Office of Rural Affairs for the third time.
The fire district undertook two years of planning before a failed request in 2005. They tried again and were again denied this month.
‘Our advocate is really an adversary,’ said Kocka of the grant advocate sent by the Office of Rural Affairs.
‘We have too much money in this county is the perception,’ he said.
Knowing that the project scored very high during grant consideration, Jill Saegesser, executive director of River Hills Economic Development District of Jeffersonville, said she asked, ‘What did it? Is it the money?’ in reference to Harrison County’s riverboat revenue.
She said a representative of the Office of Rural Affairs told her that it was. Saegesser said they were not even given tips to make the application stronger until after bringing Sen. Richard Young to meet with the grant advocate. They were then given points to improve, and they did, she said.
‘We passed the threshold, our marks were good, our grant was great, but when push came to shove, we have too much money in this county,’ Kocka said.
‘Boone Township Fire District certainly doesn’t have any control over how the county allocates funding,’ Saegesser said, as she defended the township’s need to pursue state grant funding.
Eckart wasn’t convinced that a third application would be met with the same result.
‘We’ve been successful almost 100 percent across the board. I can’t see that there’s a predisposition toward turning down Harrison County where funding is concerned,’ Eckart said.
But, Kocka said, times have changed.
‘I think now we’re under a new administration of people who are not as sympathetic to Harrison County for whatever reason.’
Goldman pointed out that it took him three tries before being awarded funding to help clean up the environmentally hazardous 3-B Barrel and Drum Co. site at Central Barren.
The commissioners agreed to continue their support of the project and asked Harrison County Council chair Gary Davis, who was in the audience, if he thought his body would do the same.
‘We always have in the past,’ Davis said.
‘It seems to me that a fire department is more than just fires anymore,’ Goldman said. ‘They are first responders to every automobile accident, to every emergency really.’
‘I think that’s even more true in a rural setting,’ Kocka said.
Grant administrators didn’t take into account the ‘isolation factor,’ said Roger Creal of his rural fire district. ‘We are homeland security,’ he said.
Also during yesterday’s interview, Kocka conceded that if the commissioners had allocated more money to the firehouse project in lieu of grant funding, it might have set a bad percent and given justification to claims that the county has ample revenue.
‘They probably took the appropriate action,’ he said.
And as for the mini-ethanol plant, Kocka said he was serious about the possibility and that preliminary research shows that a small plant could save his department more than $3,000 in fuel costs annually while creating a surplus of $3,000 to $5,000 worth of fuel which could then be sold.