Council approves new fire district



Crothersville-Vernon Township Fire Department officials recently made progress in their efforts to come up with additional fund for operating costs.

With a present budget of $33,000, the only department in the county with less revenue is rural Grassy Fork Volunteer Fire Department $31,050. At $141,500, Brownstown Fire Department has the highest operating budget among the eight existing fire districts consisting of volunteers.

The department, which provides fire protection and emergency medical services for the residents of Crothersville and Vernon township, and motorists traveling busy Interstate 65 through the township, has been receiving its funding from town and the township property tax revenues. Vernon Township Trustee Scott Kovener manages the funds.

In an effort to obtain new revenue, fire officials have been discussing the possibility of the town council approving an ordinance creating a fire protection district.

The ordinance, similar to what other townships in the county have in place now, would allow a five-member board to set the property tax rate for the fire district. It would eliminate the need for department to look to the town and township for money to pay the bills.

During a recent council meeting, Councilman Butch Robinson and council President Ardell Mitchell approved the ordinance establishing the fire district in a 2-0 vote after a public hearing. Councilman Derrick Minton abstained since he is a member of the fire department. No one from the public spoke for or against the ordinance.

Jackson County commissioners also have to approve the move to a fire district, and county council reviews the budgets and tax rates to help fund of each fire districts in the fall of each year. The Indiana Department Local Government Finance also must approve fire district budgets each year.

If the proposed fire district is put in place, commissioners would appoint a board of five members, and that board would set the property tax rate to fund operating revenues.

Crothersville-Vernon Township Fire Chief Ben Spencer has said at past council meetings he hoped to have the district established by October. He also said the reason for the move to a fire district is because the department is spending more money than it is bringing in with the current property tax rate revenue and fundraisers.

In the past few years, the department has managed to purchase a new tanker and some firefighting equipment but there is a need for more such purchases.

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 about 400 runs, Spencer said.

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

Kovener has not been opposed to Crothersville-Vernon Township Fire Department finally making the move.

Currently, Crothersville-Vernon’s budget is funded by a 2-cent property tax rate for each $100 assessed valuation. The department, like many others, also relies on fundraisers, but those aren’t meeting the demand, Spencer said.

Combined with a cumulative fire rate of 0.0177, property owners with a home with an assessed valuation of $100,000 would pay $12.35 in property taxes or 0.03177 cents per $100 assessed valuation for the department each year. The cumulative tax rate is used to save money for capital expenses, such as new trucks or buildings.

At 0.0377, the department has the lowest total property tax rate in the county. The combined Pershing Township Fire District has the highest rate, 0.1507.

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

At 4 cents per $100 assessed valuation, 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.

The transfer of assets from the town and township to the fire district will be discussed at a later date, Mitchell said.

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