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Fire district tax rate higher than first indicated

Taylor Township Trustee Wayne Gettelfinger informed the Harrison County Board of Commissioners Monday night that the tax rate for the new Posey-Taylor Township Fire District is higher than what was originally presented.
Gettelfinger said the township and its residents were told it would be a 12-cent tax rate, but the state approved a 17.5-cent rate after it was submitted that way by the fire district.
As part of the fire district process, signatures had to be gathered from township residents. During that process, fire department officials said it would be a 12-cent rate, which would raise approximately $312,000.
The new rate will raise $465,000.
‘I don’t know why they’d do such a thing,’ Gettelfinger said. ‘It needs to be taken care of.’
The county council will review the rates and can make adjustments.
Gettelfinger said the same thing happened with Harrison Township, going from a 23-cent rate to 31.5 cents.
Posey-Taylor Fire District vice president Roger Montgomery and president, Steven Day, presented their case for the increase.
Montgomery said the 12-cent rate would pay for only two firefighters with no medical benefits, and they added another part-time firefighter for safety purposes.
‘So that’s why those numbers were increased like that,’ he said. ‘I understand how people might have the idea we done this underhandedly. We didn’t.’
Commissioner Kenny Saulman said it almost looks like it.
‘Because it’s not what they said they were going to do to start with,’ he said,
The district should start the process over, Saulman said, since the figures aren’t what was presented to the people.
Montgomery said the rate was advertised properly with public notices about the tax levy increase.
‘And we received no objections at the time,’ he said.
Montgomery cited Indiana Code and stated they did nothing illegal.
‘I believe when the fire chief for Elizabeth (Volunteer) Fire Dept. went out and got these petitions, he did so in good faith without a whole lot of information about what it takes to run a paid-volunteer combination fire department,’ he said.
Gettelfinger reiterated that a 12-cent rate is what the taxpayers were told they would receive.
‘That’s what they deserve to get,’ he said.
Gettelfinger said he, personally, would not have signed a petition for the 17.5 cent rate.
Saulman said he thought the 12-cent rate was quite a lot for that small of an area.
Montgomery said the scenario of only two firefighters going out on a run is scary.
‘If that pump stops, that water quits. How’s he going to get out? That water is between you and those flames. That’s your lifeline. If there’s no one outside on the pump and both of them go in because someone’s in the front yard screaming my baby’s in there, and there’s nobody out there to go get those two, we’ve just lost two firefighters. Now we’ve got death benefits to pay. And it’s not even the benefits; it’s the fact that we’ve just killed two firefighters.’
He said the best practice guideline is four firefighters.
‘And we went with two,’ he said. ‘And now we’re trying to get part-time.’
Saulman said the originally proposed 12-cent rate will be a lot more funding than they’ve had in previous years.
‘They’ve been doing OK for a long time,’ he said.
Saulman said Montgomery (and the district) is asking for the top of the line in funding, while Montgomery said they were only after the bare minimum.
Saulman said he didn’t know if the township could afford it.
Day said the rates expressed during the petition phase of the process had to be considered ‘good faith estimates’ and, once they got into budget work, it was apparent more money was needed.
Saulman said the commissioners have no power on the tax rate; that rests with the county council.
In other business Monday, the commissioners awarded an asphalt resurfacing bid to E&B Paving for the completion of Corydon-Ramsey Road between Quarry Road and Sherri Lane at a price of $165,296.25. The only other bidder, C&R Construction, came in at $174,010.45.
The commissioners’ next meeting will be Monday, Oct. 2, at 8:30 a.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon.