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Elizabeth VFD funding still on hold

The Harrison County Council Monday night again tabled a $500,000 request for Posey Township for the Elizabeth Volunteer Fire Dept., with the aim to come up with a decision by the council’s next meeting (March 9 at 7 p.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon).
The request is to essentially build a new station with added bays and renovate the current facility in downtown Elizabeth, which would allow the department to abandon the old structure ‘on the hill’ that is used for storage.
A gentleman’s agreement was created some time ago between the county and the fire chiefs’ association with the understanding that approximately $500,000 of riverboat gaming funds would be spent each year on fire service. It’s up to the fire chiefs’ association to determine which department has the greatest need and should receive funding for that particular year.
For 2015, Elizabeth was slated to receive the full $500,000 for the firehouse project, one that has been in the works for about six years, according to EVFD officials.
But the funding came into question after Council Chair Gary Davis referred to the R.W. Bassett & Associates report turned in last October and when Councilman Kyle Nix expressed reservations about giving all of the funding to one department in one year, especially when Blue River Township is in dire need of a substation for the Ramsey Volunteer Fire Dept. (Ramsey VFD, which serves Blue River, Jackson and Spencer townships, has a station in Ramsey and New Salisbury, both in Jackson Township, and one in the Spencer Township community of Frenchtown.)
Bassett was hired by the county last year (and also on occasions before that) to assess the needs of the nine fire departments.
The first priority of the Elizabeth VFD, according to Bassett, should be a new substation on or near the Posey-Taylor Township line. The structure would be similar to the recently-built Harrison Township VFD firehouse along Fairview Church Road. The new facility would improve the ISO rating, which, in turn, would lower homeowners’ insurance for residents in the area.
Still, some confusion exists on what exactly Bassett believes is needed for the EVFD. In a previous Bassett report, about 10 years ago, it stated the department needed a new downtown firehouse at a cost of about $1 million. The new report, according to EVFD officials, includes the understanding that the department is to receive $500,000 this year.
Davis, who along with other council members had a conference call with Bassett, said Bassett’s top priority now should be a new or renovated station for the Palmyra fire department.
Davis asked Elizabeth officials what they could do with $375,000, if it was allocated to them, and said they are not going to get the full $500,000.
Scott Hutt, assistant fire chief at Elizabeth, said they’d have to go back to the drawing board.
‘Everyone else on the three-year plan (gentleman’s agreement) got what they wanted,’ Hutt said. ‘We’ve been working on this for six years. Now you’re telling us ‘no’.’
Posey Township Trustee Steve Smith asked the council what’s the worth of a gentleman’s agreement if one side doesn’t hold its end of the bargain?
Davis said he understood their position, but the county paid for the Bassett report and he thought they should give weight to its recommendations.
Councilman Richard Gerdon said he believes the department should get the money it was promised.
Nix asked EVFD officials to find out what the cost of the renovations of the firehouse would be without the addition of the new bays.
The council also has a request from Blue River Township Trustee Michael Beyerle for the building of a substation for RVFD in his township. Beyerle’s request, for $150,000, was outside of the gentleman’s agreement.
Davis said he could guarantee Beyerle wouldn’t receive money outside of the $500,000 (gentleman’s agreement).
‘You’ve said you can guarantee this or that all night,’ Beyerle said. ‘Then you’ll slip in every now and then that you’re only one of seven.’
Davis said he realizes he’s only one of seven.
‘I hope you do,’ Beyerle replied.
‘I could make some other comments, but I won’t,’ Davis said.

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