Frequently Asked Questions
Last updated 02/27/2020
How is Benton Township currently providing services?
For the last 40 years, the Township has contracted with the Benton Township Volunteer Firefighters as well as neighboring Bloomington Township (a professional full-time fire department) for fire and emergency services. Over the past several years, our volunteer roster, like those across the state, has shrunk and recruiting new volunteers has been a challenge. Beginning January 2021, we will no longer be able to contract with Bloomington Township since they have joined with the Monroe Fire Protection District.
Why do we need this now?
The Benton Township Trustee, along with the Township Board, has been aware of our precarious position for the last several years. During that time, we have worked diligently to find the best option to ensure our residents have high-quality fire protection and emergency services for the lowest cost for the long term. In 2017, an outside consultant advised us that consolidation with a career fire department was our best option to secure high-quality long term fire protection. They recommended that we join the Fire District, but it was not possible until we shared a boundary with a participating unit. Last fall, Bloomington Township was approved to merge with the District, therefore Benton Township is now able to join as well.
As with many other volunteer township fire departments across the state, we are rapidly approaching a critical situation in which our expenses to run a volunteer fire department and to contract for backup services exceed our maximum tax revenue sources. Last year, we had to dip into our cash reserves in order to cover our minimum expenses, and we are only able to do that for a limited time. Even contracting with the District, or hiring our own paid staff, is significantly more than what we can sustainably afford at our current tax levels.
How will this change affect me?
Benton Township will have its first full-time paid firefighters with EMT training who will be able to respond immediately from our station in Unionville – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Having these responders at a centralized location will shave minutes from our current response time throughout many areas of Benton Township, saving lives and property when the unthinkable happens.
Will the consolidation reduce my homeowner’s insurance rates?
We hope so! The improvement in response time and addition of full-time staffing would likely reduce homeowner’s insurance premiums within 5 driving miles of our station, which includes a large portion of Benton Township. Any changes to premiums are dependent on individual insurance policies – please contact your agent for details on your specific situation.
Will my taxes go up?
Yes, but we expect that the impact on your wallet will be minimal. Merging with the Fire District will raise ONLY the property taxes set aside for firefighting, which is less than 8% of your current bill. Further details about how this merger will impact our tax rates will be presented at the March public meetings.
What will happen to the Benton Township volunteer firefighters?
The District still needs volunteer firefighters to help respond on runs, adding to the number of personnel needed on scene to help. With the Fire District, volunteers will have potential career and part-time opportunities, keeping our members here in our community. In addition, the Benton Township volunteers will be able to continue to host community events like the ever-popular Mother’s Day auction/chili supper and Halloween Open House.
What will happen to our fire station and equipment?
Once we join, the fire station and equipment will become part of the Fire District. The station will remain where it is but will be staffed, and our equipment will continue to be used to respond to calls in Benton Township.
What is the Monroe Fire Protection District?
The District was originally created as a result of the merger of Perry and Clear Creek Townships in 1987. The Fire District has been expanding over the last several years. In 2017, Indian Creek Township joined due to rising expenses, and the new entity was renamed the Monroe Fire Protection District. In 2018, Salt Creek Township and Polk Townships started contracting with the District since it was less expensive than their contract with the City of Bloomington. In 2019, Bloomington and Van Buren Townships joined the Fire District largely due to annexation protections that were enacted, but also to ensure high-quality services at a minimal tax rate. Washington Township has been reported to start the process in 2020 to also join the District.
(credit: Dave Askins, B Square Beacon, used with permission)
What is the difference between a Fire District and a Fire Territory?
A fire territory is an agreement between two neighboring townships to partner together to provide fire services. A fire district is a separate unit of government that falls under the jurisdiction of the Monroe County Commissioners. The budget is approved by the Monroe County Council. The District Fire Chief reports to a District Fire Board whose members are appointed by the Commissioners and serve three-year staggered terms. Each Township that is part of the District has a representative on this Board.
What will happen to the Northern Monroe Fire Territory?
The Northern Monroe Fire Territory (Bloomington and Washington Townships) will dissolve as of January 1, 2021 when Bloomington Township completely merges with the Monroe Fire Protection District.
I received more than one postcard. What do I do?
Each landowner gets one vote, with a maximum of one vote per parcel. For this reason, if there is more than one person who owns two or more parcels, you may receive multiple postcards at the same address. Each vote counts towards the 20% of taxpayers who support the merger in order to move forward.
**However, due to the issue where the bulk mailing service did not affix postage to the postcards, we were able to send out a second mailing in February at no cost. If you have sent in a postcard from the first mailing, you do not have to send a postcard for the second one.
What is the process to join the District?
Monroe County Commissioners would like to see that 20% of the property owners in Benton Township are interested in the merger. We will hold public information sessions in March (hopefully after the weather gets better) so that taxpayers can hear fiscal impacts for various scenarios and can ask questions. The dates for these public meetings will be
– Monday, March 23, 2020 at 6:30 p.m.
– Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 6:30 p.m.
– Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 6:30 p.m.
We plan on posting slides and the link to the CATS recording as soon as we have them..
After we receive our minimum postcards (or after the last public meeting in March, whichever is later), the Monroe County Commissioners will start a remonstrance period where taxpayers who object to the consolidation can file an objection in writing to the Monroe County Auditor located at 100 W. Kirkwood Ave, Bloomington, IN 47404 or by email at Auditor-FPD@co.monroe.in.us. The Commissioners will then hold a public hearing in which taxpayers can speak directly to the Commissioners about their concerns.
Once the public remonstrance and public hearing has held, the Commissioners can then pass a resolution to allow Benton Township to join the Monroe Fire District as of January 1, 2022. We are currently contracting with Bloomington Township for services for 2020, and then will contract with the Monroe Fire District for one year (2021).
When is the deadline for the postcard?
In the creation of the letter, we put an upcoming date so that people wouldn’t put it off and possibly misplace/recycle it. We understand that people have a lot of questions and may want to wait until the March meetings to make a decision. That’s OK! We will take your postcard at any time, but the Commissioners would like to see at least 20% of the postcards returned before they will consider taking next steps in allowing us to join.
Will the materials from the public meetings be available outside of the meetings?
We plan on posting any Powerpoint slides here on the website as soon as we have them. Community Access Television Services) has been invited to the meetings as well and we hope they can record at least one meeting. The link to that recording will also be posted. I had one question about Facebook Livestreaming – we will certainly give it a try!
Does Benton Township have any debt that would be transferred to the District?
No, we do not have, nor intend to have any debt between now and then.
What is the Township’s responsibility to provide fire protection?
Per Indiana Code 36-6-4-3(10), The township executive (Township Trustee) shall provide fire protection under 36-8. The Township Trustee, with the Township Board, may do so by IC 36-8-13-3.
1. Purchase firefighting apparatus and equipment for the township and to hire staff.
2. Contract with a municipality in the township or in a contiguous township who has firefighting apparatus, equipment, and staff.
3. Cooperate with a municipality in the township or in a contiguous township in the purchase, maintenance, and upkeep of firefighting apparatus and equipment for use in the township.
4. Contract with a volunteer fire department that uses Township apparatus and equipment.
5. Contract with a volunteer fire department that owns their own apparatus and equipment.
Option 1: Benton Township currently owns all firefighting apparatus and equipment. However, to hire our own staff would cost significantly more (around $745,000) than what our tax levels will support (around $340,000).
Option 2: Benton Township officials contacted the City of Bloomington in 2017 about possibly contracting for services. The price quoted (nearly $1.2 million per year) is unaffordable. The Town of Ellettsville who has a career fire department situated in Richland Township which does not touch Benton Township.
Option 3: This option covers the purchase, maintenance, and upkeep of firefighting equipment and does not cover the staffing to respond.
Option 4: We have contracted with the Benton Township of Monroe County Volunteer Firefighters for many decades. Over the past several years, our volunteer roster, like those across the state, has shrunk and recruiting new volunteers has been a challenge. The volunteer are not able to guarantee a response to runs due to work, family, and other commitments.
Option 5: The only other volunteer fire department in Monroe County is in Stinesville, which is a significant distance away from Benton Township boundaries.
What other options have been pursued in the past?
Option 1: Raise Taxes or Revenue
1. We are not able to raise taxes on our own. The current tax limits were set in 1973 by the Bowen Tax package. In addition, in 2010 pass additional restrictions called circuit breakers that reduce the amount of property tax that can be collected.
2. We cannot file an excess levy appeal with the state to raise taxes — this is only allowed under very specific circumstances such as annexation.
3. Since a large portion of Benton North is Morgan-Monroe State Forest, it has been suggested that the state can pay us for the revenue that is lost by not being able to collect property taxes. We asked, and the state says we are not eligible for addition revenue (payments in lieu of taxes).
4. We cannot use government bonds to fund operations — these are designed for capital projects only.
5. We cannot add this issue to the ballot for voting. Essentially the postcard sent to property owners fulfills this intent.
6. A referendum is not a long term sustainable solution – taxpayers can remonstrate and stop the process.
7. Taking out an emergency fire loan is not a long term sustainable solution – taxpayers can remonstrate and stop the process.
8. Writing grants for staffing is not a long term sustainable solution – usually grants are one-time.
9. Doing community fundraisers such as “Go Fund Me” is not a long term sustainable solution as stable funding is needed to plan and provide for services.
Option 2: Contract with Another Unit
1. We can no longer contract with Bloomington Township since they have been approved to join the Monroe Fire District. We would have to contract with the Monroe Fire District, and a similar contract with MFD is anticipated to be significantly more than what our revenue stream will allow.
2. We cannot afford to contract with the City of Bloomington for emergency services ($1.2 million per year).
Option 3: Use Consolidation to Raise Taxes
1. Benton Township is one of the largest townships in Indiana, since the Commissioners merged Marion Township (sometimes referred to as Benton North) and Benton Townships in 1947. We are not able to “unmerge” them and form own fire territory.
2. We cannot consolidate withe Lake Lemon Conservancy District for a fire territory — the territory must be with a municipality (city or town).
3. We cannot join the Monroe County Fire Territory (Bloomington and Washington Townships) since they will be dissolving at the end of this year.
4. We cannot consolidate (Fire Territory or Fire District) with nearby contiguous townships
- Washington Township, Monroe County – no interest, would like to join District
- Salt Creek Township, Monroe County – no interest, contracting with District
- Washington Township, Morgan County – no interest
- Jackson Township, Brown County – no interest, part of Brown County District
- Washington Township, Brown County – no interest, part of Brown County District
Option 4: Rely on our Volunteers
1. We do not have enough available volunteers to guarantee an emergency response. Our volunteer roster, like many other across the state, has shrunk and recruiting volunteers has been a challenge. We are always accepting applications, if you would like to be a volunteer firefighter to help out!
2. We cannot rely on the Monroe County mutual aid agreement to provide guaranteed service to emergencies. This agreement is based off of one of our volunteers getting on scene first to determine that additional help is needed and there is no guarantee of a response.
Option 5: Dissolve the Township
1. Although this is an extreme option, it is offered by the State of Indiana. At this time the Board and Trustee feel that we offer a lot of personalized and local services that another unit may not have the time nor the interest to do.
What is Benton Township’s ISO rating?
Due to our fire contract, Benton Township residents were covered under Bloomington Township’s ISO ratings for homeowners insurance rates (5/10) for years . In 2015, Benton Township had its own assessment which downgraded our rating to a 7/9 (“7” if within 5 road miles of a fire station or “9” if more than 5 miles) — the lower the number the better. We anticipate that as soon as we have full time staff at our station, ISO will re-evaluate our area and update ratings. For more information, contact your local insurance company.
What if I object to the merger?
Fifty (50) or more taxpayers in the current taxing unit (unincorporated portions of Perry, Clear Creek, Indian Creek, Van Buren, and Bloomington Townships) may file a petition with the Monroe County Auditor, not later than thirty (30) days after the March 26 public engagement meeting. Such objections can be filed in the Auditor’s office located at 100 W. Kirkwood Ave, Bloomington, IN 47404 or by email at Auditor-FPD@co.monroe.in.us. Upon receipt of the petition, the County Auditor shall immediately certify the same to the Monroe County Commissioners, at which point the Department will fix a date for and conduct a public hearing on the petition.