The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
Feb. 5—CHESTERFIELD — Union Township Trustee Mike Phillipssaid the future of fire service in the township is “bleak and uncertain” when making the case to merge with Richland Township’s fire department to form a fire territory.
Officials from both departments presented their case for joining at the first of three public meetings on Tuesday.
“It is within our control to fix this current and future financial crisis,” Phillips said. “We are obligated to act as the officials elected to those positions that take very seriously the responsibility of protecting our citizens.”
Analysis from Baker Tilly, a public accounting and consulting firm, showed Union Townshipfire service operating with a deficit of $196,572 for 2021 and Richland Townshipwith a $5,982 deficit.
“I’m telling you as the fire chief of Union Township, we cannot maintain staffing to acceptable levels moving forward with our current system,” Jamey Burrowssaid.
Todd Harmeson, public information officer for the Union Township Fire Department, said both departments are seeing an increase in calls and fewer volunteers each year in their ranks.
Richland Townshipwent on 598 runs in 2020, up from 507 in 2019, an 18% increase. Union Townshipwent on just over 1,350 runs, up 16% from 2019.
Without a change, Harmeson said, the department would not be able to continue 24/7 coverage.
The merged departments would cover about 50 square miles and be named the East Madison Fire Territory.
They would continue to maintain both stations, Union Township’sstation in Chesterfieldand Richland Township’son County Road500 North.
Richland Stationwould be staffed daily with three firefighter and EMT personnel and a chief officer, and Union Stationwould have six firefighter and EMT personnel and a chief officer, all paid for by tax revenue.
Both departments would still have volunteer members.
“The volunteers still actively have a role in these two agencies providing supplemental manpower and personnel,” Harmeson said.
Paige Sansoneof Baker Tillydetailed the impact the new territory would have on taxes.
The tax rate for unincorporated areas of Richland Townshipwould increase by 27.9% while unincorporated areas of Union Townshipwould increase by 26.7%, Sansone said, adding that most property owners won’t see much of an increase due to property tax caps.
The new territory would also affect the distribution of local income taxes and vehicle excise taxes.
ChesterfieldClerk-Treasurer Deborah Dunhamsaid she was concerned about money being taken away from the town, schools and the library. The town currently pays $115,000 a year for fire protection and is being asked for $40,000 more, Dunham said.
“I don’t know where we’re going to come up with it,” Dunham said.
“It’s great to think that property values are going to increase, but with the pandemic I think we’re going to see a lot of buildings that are going to be empty, and we’re not going to be getting any revenue from that,” she said.
Union Townshipresident Bill Kutscheraspoke in favor of the territory sharing the story of when his defibrillator went off while at home.
He first called 911, then his wife, after which he intended to drive himself to the hospital, but before he got off the phone with his wife the medics had arrived.
“I was fortunate that we had a staffed fire department there that day,” Kutschera said.
Not having staff at the station causes delays, he said, and in his opinion, that causes lives to be lost.
Follow Don Knighton Twitter @donwknight, or call 765-622-1212 ext. 204567.
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