Fire district proposed for Vernon township

The only Jackson County township fire department yet to make the conversion to a fire district is proposing that switch now to help bring in more money for operating costs amid an increase in emergency calls.

In a meeting with Crothersville Town Council members Tuesday, Crothersville-Vernon Fire Chief Ben Spencer discussed the potential effects of the proposal on property owners and why the department needs more revenue.

The council is one of several government bodies that would have to approve the proposal before the district can be established.

The department’s current operating budget of $33,000 is managed by Vernon Township Trustee Scott Kovener. The only department with a lower operating budget is the rural Grassy Fork Volunteer Fire Department at $31,050. At $141,500, Brownstown Fire Department has the highest operating budget among the eight existing fire districts.

In January 2010, most of the townships, with the exception of Carr and Crothersville-Vernon Township, switched from a system managed by the township trustee to a fire district. Officials feared the state might require rural township fire departments to merge into a countywide system.

Spencer said Vernon Township didn’t convert at that time because “we thought it was in our best interest to watch the other fire departments.”

Crothersville-Vernon’s budget is funded by a 2-cent property tax rate. The department, like many others, also relies on fundraisers, but those aren’t meeting the demand.

“Sometimes we barely break even, and it’s not because the public doesn’t back us, but it’s the economy,” Spencer said.

Combined with a cumulative fire rate of 0.0177, property owners with a home with an assessed valuation of $100,000 pay $12.35 in property taxes for the department. The cumulative tax rate is used to save money for capital expenses such as new trucks or buildings.

If the proposed fire district were put in place, a five-member board would be appointed by county commissioners. That board then would set the property tax rate.

Spencer talked about three possible property tax rates — 4, 6 or 8 cents — and what it would cost property owners if each were implemented:

At 4 cents, a resident with a $100,000 home would pay $13.10 a year or 75 cents more than the current rate.

At 6 cents, that amount would increase to $19.65 a year.

At 8 cents, it would go to $26.20.

Crothersville-Vernon Township Fire Department has the lowest total property tax rate (0.0377) in the county. The combined Pershing Township Fire District has the highest rate, 0.1507.

Spencer told the council the reason for the proposed switch is because the department is spending more money than it’s bringing in with the current property tax rate and fundraisers.

“We’d like to move to a fire district to secure funds so that in the future we are stable,” he told the council.

In the past few years, the department has purchased a new tanker and some firefighting equipment.

Spencer said the number of medical/fire runs continues to increase because of Interstate 65, which runs along the east side of the town. Last year, there were roughly 400 runs, Spencer said.

To move forward with establishing a fire district, the town council must approve an ordinance creating the district. County commissioners must approve a proposal to put the fire board in place.

Any tax rate set by the fire board would have to be approved by the county council and the state Department of Local Government Finance.

Spencer said the department also plans to talk with the township trustee about the issue.

Town council members did not act on the fire district issue but agreed to put it on the agenda for the March 3 meeting for further discussion.

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Current fire protection rates for Crothersville:

Firefighting rate: 0.02

Cumulative fire rate: 0.0177

Total: 0.0377

With a home assessed valuation of $100,000, a taxpayer pays $12.35.

With a house or business property at $100,000 with no exemptions or deductions, a taxpayer pays $37.70.

With a home assessed valuation of $200,000, a taxpayer pays $36.85.

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If the proposed tax rate increased to 0.0400:

Home assessed valuation of $100,000 = $13.10

House of business property with no exemptions or deductions = $40

Home assessed valuation of $200,000 = $39.10

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In comparison with other fire district townships in Jackson County:

Vernon Twp. Fire Protection: 0.0200 operating tax rate; $33,000 operating budget.

Grassy Fork;0.0468;$31,050

Driftwood;0.0388;$37,349

Pershing;0.1507;$99,695

Brownstown;0.0557;$141,050

Redding;0.0307;$70,052

Owen Salt Creek;0.0678;$68,650

Hamilton;0.0411;$76,500

Jackson Washington;0.0423;$115,500

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