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RVFD, township trustees eye fire territory

Harrison County is set to have its first fire territory, if all goes as planned.
The fire territory will encompass Blue River, Jackson and Spencer townships, and the Ramsey Volunteer Fire Dept., which currently serves those three townships, will continue to be contracted as the fire service provider.
However, the creation of a fire territory will provide more funding for the department through an increase in property taxes than the township trustees are allowed by law to raise for fire protection.
The advisory boards for all three townships met Thursday evening at the firehouse in Ramsey to discuss creating a fire territory. Attorney Marcus Burgher IV led the meeting. At least two townships that are contiguous are needed to create a fire territory, he said, and each township involved must pass an identical resolution to create a fire territory.
‘If you’re going forward, you will want to hire a financial consultant,’ Burgher told the township advisory boards.
While the townships of the fire territory can have different tax rates, the rates have to be decided when the budget is presented.
One township will be designated as the provider unit to approve the budget for the fire department.
Jeanne Schroeder, a Jackson Township advisory board member, asked if a fire district would result in more money for the fire department.
Blue River Township trustee Mike Beyerle said, ‘It’s not necessarily more money but who controls the tax rate.’
He later said his township struggles now to pay Ramsey VFD its contracted fee for fire service.
Chris Woertz, who succeeded Ned Wiseman as Ramsey fire chief last month, said the accumulation fire fund doesn’t generate enough money to replace equipment, some of which has nearly doubled in price in the last 10 years.
‘It’s a constant struggle,’ he said. ‘Nothing gets cheaper.’
The fund allows the fire department to keep electricity to its three buildings, one in Ramsey, New Salisbury and Frenchtown, with a new station under construction in Blue River Township, and fuel in the vehicles’ tanks.
‘Everybody wants the fire department to show up when their house is on fire,’ Burgher said, but residents need to understand that comes at a cost.
Long-time firefighter Paul (Pete) Martin reminded everyone that Ramsey firefighters get $200 a year as a stipend. ‘These guys work for you for nothing,’ he said.
Jackson Township advisory board member Bob Morris cautioned that they need to make sure the tax rate for the fire territory isn’t set too low.
‘Expenses are going to go up,’ he said.
Aaron Scott, the Spencer Township trustee said, ‘We want to be as generous to the fire department as we can be, but we want (the tax rate) to be as fair as possible to the taxpayers.’
Fred Naegele, another Jackson Township advisory board member, asked if a referendum was needed to create a fire territory.
Burgher replied that it only takes a resolution to move forward with the process.
‘You can’t wait until Jan. 1’ to adopt the resolution, he said. ‘You start publicly presenting after Jan. 1.’
He added that taxpayers can file a petition to stop the process but county officials cannot halt the creation of a fire territory.
After the meeting, Beyerle and his three-member advisory board met and passed a resolution to authorize Beyerle to ‘investigate, examine and determine’ the feasibility of establishing a fire territory.
Scott and his three-member advisory board met late Monday afternoon to pass a similar resolution.
The Jackson Township trustee, Joe Martin, and the three people who comprise his advisory board are expected to do the same.
Ramsey VFD is one of four fire departments in Harrison County that currently is not set up as a fire district or territory. The others are Elizabeth, Harrison Township and Lanesville VF departments. The remaining fire departments in the county, as well as Milltown VFD, which provides fire protection for the town in both Harrison and Crawford counties, are fire districts.
Currently, Elizabeth, Harrison Township and Lanesville fire departments are pursuing becoming fire districts. To do so, they are collecting signatures on a petition that, once certified that the proper number of residents have signed their support, will go to the county commissioners for their approval.
If the commissioners approve, a fire district board will be formed for each of those fire departments and a tax rate will be set.
According to Burgher, the actual legal process for creating the fire territory will take place between Jan. 1 and April 1. At least two public hearings will take place as part of the requirements.