Elizabeth, Harrison Twp. closer to fire districts
Two volunteer fire departments in Harrison County are closer to becoming fire districts and a third department is still working toward moving its taxing jurisdiction from the township trustee to a fire district board.
Elizabeth Volunteer Fire Dept. treasurer David Bratcher attended a special meeting of the Elizabeth Town Council Thursday night and witnessed the council adopt and sign an ordinance saying it supports the formation of a fire district for Elizabeth.
The trustees of Posey and Taylor Townships, Steve Smith and Wayne Gettelfinger, respectively, and their boards already passed resolutions saying they support the fire department creating a fire district. (Members of a fire district board cannot be current firefighters of the department.)
Fire districts have their own boards, which collect taxes from property owners via their tax bill and oversee the disbursement of those funds instead of the township trustees collecting and approving the spending for fire departments.
All but four of Harrison County’s fire departments ‘ Elizabeth, Harrison Township, Lanesville and Ramsey ‘ already operate as fire districts and have for years.
The remaining fire departments began pursuing the change earlier this year in order to raise more money through tax collections, as the township trustees are unable to increase the amount of revenue generated.
All but one of the four, Ramsey VFD, hopes to create a fire district.
Ramsey VFD, instead, is in the process of becoming a fire territory, which will be under the control of one of the three township trustees that contract with that fire department. In order to become a fire territory, the three townships ‘ Blue River, Jackson and Spencer ‘ had to approve identical resolutions outlining the formation of the territory and what the tax rate would be for property owners.
The Ramsey VFD will see more funding as a fire territory than what it receives from the three township trustees. The public will be presented details of the feasibility of establishing a fire territory sometime after the first of the year.
Under the resolution between the Posey and Taylor township trustees and Elizabeth VFD, property owners in the townships will see a 9-cent tax rate, per $100 of assessed valuation, beginning in 2018, which is expected to generate $240,000 a year. It won’t be enough for the fire department to hire any paid firefighters as hoped, at least not initially, but it will help with the financially struggling department. The tax rate is expected to drop slightly the second year of the fire district.
Bratcher said additional funds are needed for several reasons, including the upkeep of equipment, which is mandated to be tested at a fee, and the hope of some day hiring firefighters because often they don’t have enough volunteers available to make daytime runs during the week.
‘We used to have about a $14,000 profit from our annual fire supper,’ he said. ‘Now, this last one only made $5,000.’
Elizabeth Clerk-Treasurer Hugh Burns told the two town council members (the third seat is vacant after Christopher Fetz resigned) that he knew of no reason not to approve the resolution.
Bratcher told them that at their last meeting, on Nov. 7, two couples asked questions but, ‘after it was explained, they were OK with it.’
Town council member Mike Sampson, who made the motion to adopt the ordinance, said, if anyone questions the council’s support, he’ll ask them why they weren’t at the meeting to voice their concern.
Alan Worrall, town council president, seconded the motion.
Elizabeth VFD will present the resolutions and ordinance to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners for their approval. In order for the fire district to collect taxes in 2018, approval must be complete by Dec. 31.
By having the township trustees, as well as the town council, show support for the creation of a fire district, the Elizabeth firefighters do not have to gather signatures on a petition like the route the Lanesville VFD chose.
Tony Combs, Lanesville’s fire chief, said they are still on track to create a fire district and are getting signatures.
‘I think we underestimated the time it takes to get (the signatures) but still hope to get things finished before the end of the year,’ he said. ‘We have had a real good positive response out of the vast majority despite a few people working against us. It’s not hard to argue your point when you can show that most people currently pay more for garbage pickup per year than fire protection.’
Harrison Township VFD already has completed its gathering of signatures and was expected to present the petition to the commissioners Monday night. (Due to the early press deadline because of Thanksgiving, the outcome of that meeting was not known.)
‘It’s been mostly positive,’ fire chief Jon Saulman said of the collection process. ‘Very few people were negative. Most everyone wants to support us. … It definitely seems like something the community wants.’
Based on the fire department’s preliminary budget, Saulman said the average property owner in Harrison Township should see an increase of $72 to $84 a year ‘ $6 to $7 a month ‘ on their property tax bill. He also said the rate should drop slightly after the first year of the district’s creation.
Based on the Bassett report’s study of fire departments in Harrison County, Harrison Township VFD hopes to bring on paid firefighters to help with the number of runs it makes, which averages five or six a day.