Faced with the reality that residents of their township would go without fire protection next year, Greencastle Township officials have helped bring an end to prolonged and contentious negotiations with the city by agreeing to help pay for a new fire truck for the city fire department.
On Thursday, Greencastle Township trustee Thelma Bumgardner told the BannerGraphic that she and her advisory board members were planning to sign two separate contracts on Friday -- one ensuring fire protection for the township in 2008 and the other, securing a portion of the $450,000 needed to buy a new truck for the Greencastle Fire Department.
The city was refusing to honor either agreement unless the township signed both of them. But the ultimatum didn't sit well with township officials who requested a meeting with the BannerGraphic on Thursday morning after saying they felt they had been "vilified" by the city.
"That's intimidation, as far as I'm concerned," Bumgardner said.
According to the contract for the new fire truck, the township agrees to pay the city $176,000 in 2008, to be followed by a payment of $33,000 in 2009 and again in 2010.
This leaves an additional $33,000 to be paid in the fourth year, outside the contract. Law prohibits Bumgardner from entering a contract that extends beyond her current term, which expires at the end of 2010.
Also approved is the contract requiring the township to pay the city $50,000 to ensure fire protection in 2008 for the residents of Greencastle Township whose homes are outside the city limits.
"The $50,000 is great," Bumgardner told the BannerGraphic. "We know that's what we have to do. We have to have fire protection."
But the contention this year has been, not with the fire protection contract, but with the contract for the new fire truck.
Several months ago, city officials asked Bumgardner and her advisory board of Charlie Miles, Karen Ambler and Marilyn Clearwaters to pay $275,000 for the new truck, with the city chipping in the remaining balance.
Fire officials say the 1971 Mack engine they are currently using continually needs care and that repairs are quite costly. Several meetings were held, beginning in the summer, but neither side could come to an agreement.
On Thursday, township officials told the BannerGraphic they would prefer to spend less money on purchasing fire equipment and more on other expenses of the township, including poor relief and rental assistance to needy residents of the township.
"I haven't been able to help anybody with rent because I haven't had any money," Bumgardner said, adding that she hasn't provided rental assistance in six months.
Clearwaters agreed there are other expenses in the township, in addition to purchasing fire equipment.
"I don't think our priorities are in the right place," she said.
The township's 2008 budget is as follows: general fund, $38,710; poor relief, $60,000; firefighting, $50,000; and cumulative fire, $20,000.
Currently there is $175,000 in accumulated funds in the cumulative fire fund, all of which will have to be paid to the city next year, according to the contract.
Bumgardner isn't sure where the $33,000 is going to come from in 2009 and 2010 because she says state law indicates she can only set aside $20,000 in the cumulative fire fund each year. She says her only option is to appeal to the state to raise that appropriation, and even the, she isn't guaranteed an approval.
"She's trying to protect the taxpayers," Ambler said of Bumgardner.
Bumgardner and her advisory board members reiterated Thursday they like to leave a "cushion" in her budget and don't want to borrow money to pay for the new truck.
Notwithstanding, Bum-gardner and her advisory board were pleased with the fact that the city agreed on a clause to be inserted in the contract for the fire truck. It states that if "funds in any give contract year are not available to be appropriated," the township trustee is relieved from the contract.
Another amendment that pleased township officials was a change in the payment schedule. The city had asked that the two latter payments of $33,000 be made on Jan. 1 of each year, but Bumgardner said she and her attorney were negotiating to change those dates to more closely coincide with when the township actually receives it bi-annual property tax draw.
Also amended to the township's satisfaction: the city requested the township enter a four-year contract to purchase the fire truck, but later agreed with the township to shorten it to three years.
A 1950 Opinion of the Indiana Attorney General, an excerpt of which was included with a letter issued to the city, by the township attorney on Nov. 20, says that township trustees cannot enter into contracts that extend beyond their term.
Bumgardner said she doesn't understand the need for a contract this year because there was only a verbal agreement in 2001, when the township provided funding for a new piece of equipment.
"We just shook hands," she said.
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Editor's note: As a clarification to the story that appeared in Monday's BannerGraphic, township officials had not signed the contracts at the time the story appeared. The township insists it was waiting for its attorney Sharon Hammond to receive the contracts from the city, however the city contends it sent the contract on Dec. 19. It is believed that a glitch in the e-mail system failed to deliver the contracts on Dec. 19. They were sent again on Dec. 27 and received by Hammond.