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Thursday, May 5, 2016

City, township consider forming fire district

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Greencastle city and township officials, who have met three times recently to talk about increasing funds for the city fire department, shifted their discussion this week to the idea of forming a fire district, which proponents say might mean more money for expenses such as equipment, training and a second fire station.

Firefighter Tim Smith, chief of the Vincennes Township Fire District in southwestern Indiana, came to Greencastle Monday to express his support for the system to city officials, as well as those from the Greencastle Township trustee's office and Friends of the Greencastle Fire Department.

Smith said his department is reaping the benefits of increased funding since going to a fire district.

He said that prior to the township forming a district in the 1980s, there was only one fire station to service the entire 45-square-mile area. Since that time, the district has added two more fire stations and equipment to protect the approximately 5,000 residents of Vincennes Township.

Meanwhile, one difference between a fire district and the current city- and township-run department, as explained by Smith, is that the fire department would be independently run by a five-member board of trustees -- selected by the Putnam County Commissioners.

The idea that control of the fire department would no longer be with the city and township received mixed reviews from officials at Monday afternoon's meeting at the Greencastle fire station.

Mayor Nancy Michael admitted a reluctance to relinquish the oversight of the fire department currently held by her office and the city, yet she liked the idea of forming a district to possibly improve funding for fire protection.

Although it was not explained in detail at Monday's meeting, indications are that the increased funding through a fire district, though it sounds good to some -- would come from increased taxes that property owners across the district would pay.

That idea didn't sit well with Greencastle Township Trustee Thelma Bumgardner, who spoke with the BannerGraphic Tuesday morning.

She said it was her understanding, from conversations with officials from existing fire districts in Putnam County, that taxes would go up if Greencastle Township becomes part of a fire district, which is something she feels she will have a hard time selling to the residents in her district.

"I think I need to talk to the township taxpayers," she said. "They're the ones who are going to be paying the bill."

Bumgardner said she is planning to meet with an official from the state Department of Local Government Finance on July 20, at which time she plans to ask how taxes would be affected by the formation of a fire district.

"The township residents need to know what's going on," she said.

Meanwhile, city officials took the opportunity Monday to remind township officials that they don't feel township residents, living outside the city limits, are paying enough for fire protection.

"They're not paying their fair share," Michael said referring to the $40,000 the township pays each year for fire protection through the Greencastle Fire Department.

The mayor's statement didn't surprise Bumgardner.

"It seems like every year, the same problem crops up," she said.

Bumgardner said she collected about $51,000 in taxes last year, most of that going to the city for fire protection. Both she and the city agreed that Bumgardner is collecting the maximum amount of taxes, known as the maximum levy, that she can.

One option, which Bumgardner has been unwilling to implement, is borrowing. She said Tuesday that she does not like the idea of borrowing money and, in her words, "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

City officials disagree and are asking Bumgardner and the township to pitch in $275,000 toward a new fire truck for GFD.

"I don't have it," Bumgardner said of the money.

As for Monday's meeting, officials again did not reach an agreement on any of the outstanding issues and did not set a date for any future meetings.

Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent said, at the tail end of the meeting, that he is trying to plan for the next two years and hopes the group can at least agree to pay for a new fire truck. The truck in question is a 1971 Mack and Newgent estimates it would cost about $450,000 to replace.

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