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Territory created for North Harrison fire protection

The advisory boards in three Harrison County townships ‘ Blue River, Jackson and Spencer ‘ voted Thursday night to form a fire protection territory following the third and final public hearing required before such action could take place.
Property owners in the three townships will see an increase in their tax bills beginning next year because of the formation of the North Harrison Fire Protection Territory.
Paige Sansome, a certified public accountant with H.J. Umbaugh and Associates, an independent municipal advising firm, showed figures indicating a budget deficit this year for both Blue River and Spencer townships of $12,600 and $200, respectively, when looking at total receipts and their operating budgets. Jackson Township’s balance, according to Sansome, will be in the black, at $42,200.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said to property owners in attendance. ‘Your tax bill isn’t going to go up 2-1/2 times.’
Rather, the net impact (eliminating the township fire levies and adding the fire protection territory rate) for 2018 for property owners in Blue River Township will be a 4.6-percent increase on their tax bill, while Jackson Township’s rate will increase 6.5 percent and Spencer Township’s will go up 5.7 percent.
According to Umbaugh’s figures, that will result in $406,900 for the North Harrison Fire Protection Territory.
‘Year two, you’ll see a slight decrease’ of about 0.3 percent in property taxes, Sansome said, followed by a small increase of about 0.1 percent the third year.
‘This is not a huge increase when you look at the impact,’ she said.
State law has allowed for fire protection territories since 1994. The other option used to fund operating and capital expenses for fire departments is a fire district, which the other fire departments in the county, with the exception of Lanesville, have created. Lanesville VFD is working toward becoming a fire district. Elizabeth and Harrison Township fire departments became districts earlier this year, while Boone and Heth townships, Elizabeth, New Middletown and Palmyra fire departments have been districts for years.
‘We’re seeing more and more (fire departments) becoming territories,’ Sansome said, adding that control of the finances remain at the township level while the cost of fire protection services are spread over a larger tax base with a uniform tax rate.
The creation of a territory requires a provider unit, which is responsible for preparing the annual budget and performing the necessary accounting and financial functions regarding fire protection services.
For the North Harrison Fire Protection Territory, Blue River Township will serve as the provider unit. Ramsey VFD will continue to provide the needed services.
‘Nothing really has changed … just the funding,’ Sansome said.
She noted there are no immediate plans to hire paid, full-time firefighters or to issue debt for capital projects, improvements or equipment.
‘We’re lucky in this situation, none of the three (townships) have any (existing debt),’ Sansome said.
Any remaining funds in the townships’ fire and cumulative fire funds will be transferred to the fire protection territory at the beginning of next year.
A financial impact analysis and other required documents will be forwarded to the Indiana Dept. of Local Government Finance for review and final approval.
Sansome said the DLGF will determine if the three townships followed proper procedure for creating a fire protection territory and whether the creation of such will be an ‘extreme’ burden on taxpayers, which, she said, won’t likely be the case here.
She indicated it could take three to four months for the DLGF to give final approval.
Marcus Burgher IV went over with the three townships’ advisory boards the necessary documents, which included a resolution to establish the fire protection territory and an interlocal agreement between the three townships. Both outline the establishment of a uniform tax rate, the fire protection territory fund and the equipment replacement fund.
There are two exemptions from the North Harrison Fire Protection Territory: the incorporated towns of Crandall and Milltown. Crandall has its own contract with the Ramsey VFD, and Milltown is served by the Milltown VFD.
Burgher noted that the Blue River Township trustee, which is Michael Beyerle, as the acting unit provider, has a duty to communicate with the other two township governing units ‘but has the ultimate decision.’
Public hearings are required annually as the fire protection territory’s budget is set.
Each of three advisory boards ‘ Imy Berkenmeyer, Fred Churchill and Mike Smith of Blue River Township; Robert (Bob) Morris, Fred Naegele and Jeannie Schroeder of Jackson Township; and Annissa Reas, Ray Saylor and Belinda Smith of Spencer Township (Aaron Scott is the trustee) ‘ unanimously approved both the resolution to establish the fire protection territory and the interlocal agreement during a special meeting that followed the public hearing.
Joe Martin, the Jackson Township trustee, thanked those at last week’s meeting at the Ramsey Volunteer Fire Dept. station in Ramsey (Jackson Township).
The previous public hearings took place Feb. 9 at the Frenchtown Community Center/Firehouse (Spencer Township) and March 2 at the fire station along Totten Ford Road in Blue River Township.
He said the three townships decided to create the fire territory because they ‘couldn’t provide the resources needed’ via the tax rate collected currently for fire protection services.
‘Unfortunately, property taxes will probably go up a little,’ Martin said.