Ind. fire district works out plans for new department

The Tri-Township district board has sought and received applications for a fire chief to head up the new department, taken steps toward securing new equipment and hired a local safety expert


Aprile Rickert
The Evening News and The Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind.

CLARK COUNTY, Ind. — The Tri-Township Fire Protection District is making strides toward starting its own fire department, after voting to end its long-term relationship with Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department in March.

At its March meeting, the board voted 4-0 with one abstention to not renew the contract with the fire department for fire protection in Carr, Silver Creek and Union townships, when it expires Dec. 31. The two entities have contracted since 1988.

At its March meeting, the board voted 4-0 with one abstention to not renew the contract with the Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department . (Photo/ Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department)
At its March meeting, the board voted 4-0 with one abstention to not renew the contract with the Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department . (Photo/ Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department)

The vote came after a meeting the prior month in which the Tri-Township district board presented information outlining its concerns with some of the department's operations, transparency and what they described as a poor working relationship between the two.

In the three months since that vote, the Tri-Township district board has sought and received applications for a fire chief to head up the new department, taken steps toward securing new equipment and hired a local safety expert through a year-long contract, to help with the transition.

"I think the process is definitely moving in the right direction," Jerry Rauck, Tri-Township district board member said Wednesday. "The plan is that we're going to be up and running Jan. 1.

LEADERSHIP

The Tri-Township district board took out an ad for several weeks in May, seeking prospective applicants for the new fire chief position. This spot, according to the ad, includes that the person have at least 15 years experience in fire safety and at least five in upper management in a combination paid/volunteer department, specialty experience such as water and technical rescue, and a comprehensive list of state certifications.

Rauck said that the candidate should also have good administrative skills and understand the community the department will serve.

Rauck, who serves on the hiring committee, said the board received between 12 and 15 applications and has narrowed those down to several candidates. He said they expect to hire in early July.

The new chief will earn $60,000 to 90,000 annually depending on experience, but due to the unique circumstances of the transition phase — including current litigation between the two entities — it's not known at this time if the chief will earn this full salary prior to the start of the department Jan. 1.

"It's an unusual set of circumstances," Rauck said. "So obviously when we reach out to prospective candidates, we need to give them the lay of the land."

FUNDING

Currently, the Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department is funded through a tax levy collected and dispersed by the Tri-Township district; however, the department, as a nonprofit, does not have the same standards for transparency as a public agency.

In 2018, the department received roughly $1.5 million from the Tri-Township district. That money, which comes from the spring and fall property tax settlements each year, will now go to the new department once it officially starts in January.

But since the Tri-Township district will still owe the department those monies this year, it will begin the year without enough capital to start or run a new department.

Keith Pulliam, attorney for the Fire Protection District, said in an email Monday that he will be meeting with representatives of the Indiana Bond Bank in the fall, to secure tax anticipation warrants for the Tri-Township district. This means the bank would give the district up to 80 percent of anticipated tax settlement funds in advance, to prevent a short-term cash flow issue.

EQUIPMENT

Earlier this month, the Tri-Township district board received permission from the Clark County Council to buy firefighting equipment and apparatus of up to $1.8 million on an installment conditional sale or a mortgage contract, which would mean the Tri-Township district could use the equipment even as it's paying off the loans over an agreed-upon term of no more than 15 years.

To start, board members say the new Tri-Township Fire Department will need two fire trucks and a tanker. Board president Dale Cooke is working through an interlocal agreement with the Houston Galveston Area Council on procuring the equipment.

Current Sellersburg Fire Chief Boyce Adams said he hopes the two entities can still come to some kind of agreement, to mend their relationship.

"I think the best case for the people in this area would be to improve [the relationship] because we have a lot of institutional knowledge, a lot of equipment and a lot vested in this community," he said. "And I am afraid the current board members don't fully grasp what type of actions have to go on out here every day."

He further said the Sellersburg department plans to keep operating in whatever capacity it can. Adams said they're still building up recruits and starting new training classes.

"We're continuing to instruct and build the best department that we can," he said. "We've been serving this community since 1949 and intend on continuing so."

The department currently leases four of the five firehouses from the Fire Protection District for $1 per year, as part of a contract written to expire in 2020. The fifth station is leased through another company. Recently, the department filed a civil suit against the Tri-Township district for breach of contract, citing that ending the contract for fire services this year will affect others, such as that long-term lease agreement and a bank loan for equipment and repairs.

A counterclaim later filed by the Tri-Township district board stated that ending the fire protection services lease should amend the fire station lease to end at the same time.

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.

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©2019 The Evening News and The Tribune (Jeffersonville, Ind.)

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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