Fire Territory

Update 03/02/2016:  Thank you to everyone who called, emailed, or spoke to me personally about your opinions on the developments this week. I wanted to get the word out that I don’t know if the 3-8-16 Territory meeting is still going on (will update that here when I have it!) but you are welcome to attend our next regular Township Board meeting to express your opinion. Our meeting will be on Wednesday, March 9 at 6:00 p.m. at the Unionville Senior Center, 7606 E. State Road 45, Unionville, IN 47468.

IMPORTANT! Update 03/01/2016: Thank you to everyone who attended the public meeting, sent me an email, or met with me in person about the Fire Territory. Unfortunately, there has been a development and Benton Township will no longer be included in these discussions. Ideas, donations, and volunteer firefighters are welcome. Herald Times article

Dear Unionville friends and neighbors,

Thank you for your interest in what is going on in local government. I am reaching out to YOU, the taxpayer, to inform you of some important discussions going on here at the Township level that will impact our lives and future generations.

In Indiana, one of the primary duties of the Township Trustee is providing fire protection and emergency services in our communities. Benton Township owns a Fire Department in Unionville that is fully equipped with a wide array of specialty vehicles and equipment such as fire engines, tankers, rescue trucks, brush trucks, a gator, and a boat in order to respond to a variety of situations ranging from house fires, car wrecks, medical emergencies, hazardous materials incidents, lost persons, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and water/ice rescues.

Currently, we rely on a group of volunteer firefighters to respond to emergency calls in our Township. However, these volunteers are community members just like you and me and often have full time jobs, families, and other commitments which limit their ability to respond.

For over 30 years, Benton Township has had a contractual relationship with Bloomington Township to help supply equipment and people when our volunteers are unavailable. Bloomington Township Department of Fire and Emergency Services currently has three career firefighters/EMTs on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at Station 5 on Old State Road 37, near Bethel Lane. In addition to these responders, Bloomington Township has an additional group of approximately 20 volunteers, some of which reside in Benton Township. For 2016, our contractual amount for this service is $89,117.00.

THE PROBLEM:
Fire and emergency services as it is currently being provided within Benton Township will cease to become sustainable within the next two years.

WHY:
1.  Starting January 1, 2017, Benton Township will no longer be able to afford the Bloomington Township fire protection contract. Bloomington Township public officials have informed Benton Township public officials that we must start paying our fair share of operating expenses in 2017 (calculated by taking the operating budget and dividing it by the percentage of runs that are located in Benton Township).

This amount is currently anticipated to be over $300,000, while Benton Township’s maximum tax levy (revenue from property taxes) for fire services is currently $213,000. This shortfall will also cause us to most likely close our fire department (since we will not have the funds to pay for utilities, insurance, fuel, supplies, and all other expenses) as well as reduce the funds we have available for other essential Township services.

2.  The number of available Benton volunteers will start shrinking due to the increasing age of long-time volunteers. Also, recruiting/retaining new volunteers is considerably more difficult due to the increasing amount of training required in order to become a volunteer.

WHAT ARE OUR OPTIONS?
Option 1: Discontinue contract with Bloomington Township and rely on Benton Township volunteers.
This option would allow Benton Township Volunteer Fire Department to keep operating. However, it will dramatically decrease the amount of personnel and equipment that currently respond, and there is a possibility of no response from volunteer personnel if none are available. Inadequate staffing or equipment is also a potentially unsafe situation for everyone, both residents and volunteers.

Option 2: Staff Benton Township full time.
Last year the Benton Township Trustee and Benton Township volunteers assessed this option in-depth and determined independently that this was not financially possible. The limitations of the current maximum tax levy do not allow this option to be sustainable after the first year.

Option 3: Contract with other entities for fire protection and emergency services, such as the City of Bloomington or neighboring counties.
Investigations into these options determined that costs would be significantly higher while simultaneously reducing the types of services received and greatly slowing response times.

OUR SOLUTION: FORMING A FIRE TERRITORY
This arrangement has northern Monroe County residents coming together to accomplish more together than what we can separately. This is our opportunity to positively impact a long term, sustainable solution for fire and emergency services for the benefit of our community.

Goal 1: Improve fire and emergency medical response for YOU, our friends and neighbors
– Fully staff and equip the Fire Station in its current location in Unionville. At least two career firefighter/EMT/hazmat personnel will respond immediately from this location to calls across Benton Township and into Bloomington Township.
– Career personnel and volunteers from Bloomington Township Station 5 will also continue to respond.
– Benton Township volunteers will still respond if they are available.

Goal 2: Advocate for YOU, the Benton Township taxpayers
– Benton Township public officials and key volunteer firefighter personnel will lead the way in developing the structure of the Territory for the benefit of Benton Township residents.
– Benton Township will have EQUAL representation on the Executive Committee which will oversee the business of the Territory.
– The Executive Committee will recommend an annual budget, which will be approved by the Benton Township Board.
– The Executive Committee will be charged with long term planning and strategic decisions for the Territory so Benton Township’s needs are represented.

Goal 3: Protect YOUR tax dollars
– Territory budgets will be based on anticipated expenses so every tax dollar is used wisely.
– Benton Township will retain the rights to current assets such as buildings, vehicles, and equipment.
– Strategic planning and budget for replacement of worn-out or outdated equipment for the Benton Township Fire Station (currently none)

Goal 4: Secure our community legacy
– Benton Township volunteers will continue to be active in the community and will be able to offer much-loved community events such as the Auction/Chili Supper and Halloween Open House.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
1.  What if I don’t have good water service in my area?
Bloomington and Benton Township Fire Departments have demonstrated that they can provide the minimum 250 gallons per minute by shuttling tanker trucks regardless of available water supply. In addition, fire foam is suitable for various response types such as car accidents and house fires and requires significantly less water to be effective.

2. My home insurance rates have doubled this year because Benton Township doesn’t have a manned station. Will my insurance rates go down?
While we cannot offer specific answers due to the underwriting policies of various insurance companies, the Insurance Service Office (ISO) rates fire departments based on factors such as full time personnel and the ability to respond. It is anticipated that after a Territory forms that Benton Township’s ISO rating will improve and insurance rates will go down subsequently. PLEASE NOTE: Your rate impact might vary depending on your insurance company and their policies.

3.  How much is this going to cost?
The budget for the Territory is yet to be decided but we have a reasonable estimate of costs based on Bloomington Township’s actual historical costs. In Spring 2016 we need to establish the maximum levy that would be the highest amount that could be collected in property taxes. As we move forward in this process we will be determining a more accurate budget for 2017.

WHAT’S NEXT?
This page will be updated frequently with links to recordings to the meetings, copies of minutes, and tax calculations that are being discussed. Watch this page or following Benton Township-Monroe County on the latest news and discussions going on.

02-08-2016 Update
Click here for links to audio recordings of public meetings that were held over the last few months between Bloomington, Benton, and Washington Township officials.

02-12-2016 Update – Territory plans and budgets
A Fire Territory is an opportunity for various governmental entities to combine together to become a new taxing unit that is specific to each community’s needs. This opportunity is available only between January 1 and March 31 of each year. The establishment process is set forth by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance and has very strict requirements that must be met in order for it to be approved for the following fiscal year.

The first step for forming a fire territory includes determining what units will be involved and the overall vision/goals for the Territory. For the Northern Monroe County Fire Territory, the plan is to have three fully staffed stations – one in each Township. For Benton Township, we would staff the station currently located in Unionville which is fairly central to most of our residents. Bloomington Township would still be at its current location on N. Old State Road 37 near Bethel Lane. At some point, there would be a new fire station built in Washington Township, currently projected to be near the Interstate 69 interchange at Sample Road.

After that, units determine a budget for this new entity and set the maximum tax rate that would ever be levied to the taxpayer. For this proposal, the maximum tax rate that would ever be charged is 0.7888 per $100,000 in residential property. This rate would be the same for all residents in these three townships.

A few things to keep in mind:
1.  The rate of 0.7888 is a legal cap or ceiling on the tax rate, NOT the proposed rate to actually be levied for the newly formed Territory. While being discussed currently, the actual rate has not been determined because other sources of revenue like county income taxes, excise and license tax, etc. are calculated later in the year and serve to reduce the need for property tax collections.

2. Property tax calculations are complicated. This rate is applied to a value AFTER all the deductions have been applied (things like standard deduction, homestead deduction, mortgage deduction, and homestead credits). For example, for a home whose value is $100,000; Benton Township residents are only paying taxes on approximately $33,000 (your individual situation may differ).

3.  The estimated impact on your property tax IF the annual budget was set at the maximum levy amount would be a 52% increase. So, for a home that is assessed at $100,000, taxes would be expected to increase only $212 per year, or $17.67 per month.

4.  With ANY increase you will see a dramatic improvement in fire and emergency service as well as possibly lowering your home insurance rates (depending on your insurance company).

5.  Public officials are not expecting to ever levy the full amount at this time–only what is actually needed to fund the Fire Territory for the next fiscal year. Current budget estimates for 2017 have the projected rate to be well under the maximum rate.

6.  In the event that a Fire Territory is formed, the Township portion of your tax rate for fire and cumulative fire would no longer be assessed. Instead you would be assessed similar taxes for the Territory. YOU WILL NOT BE PAYING DOUBLE TAXES.

Later this weekend – more info on public hearings and the interlocal agreements being proposed.

2-13-16 Update
I have linked the drafts to the proposed Northern Monroe County Fire Territory Draft Agreement as well as the Resolution Establishing NMC Fire Territory.

Also, mark your calendars to attend a public hearing on this issue! This is your chance to ask questions and let us know what you think!

Public hearing 1: February 23, 2016, 6:30 P.M.
Location: Benton Township Volunteer Fire Department, 7606 E. State Road 45, Unionville, IN 47468

Public hearing 2: March 8, 2016, 6:30 P.M.
Location: Bus Depot, 8111 Lee Paul Road, Bloomington, IN 47408.

Public hearing 3: March 29, 2016, 6:30 P.M.
Location: Bloomington Township Fire Department Station #5, 5081 N. Old State Rd 37, Bloomington, IN 47408.

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to email me at michelleabright @ gmail.com. I’m happy to answer any questions about this or Township government in general.

Update 02/25/2016
Thank you to every who joined us at the first public hearing this past Tuesday! If you weren’t able to make it, I have included the presentation from Umbaugh and Associates below. You can listen to Paige’s presentation here starting at 39:16.

Financial Analysis part 1
Financial Analysis part 2
Proposed alternative budget with minimum staffing

Don’t forget! There are two more opportunities to come to a public hearing to participate in the conversations! The materials in all three meetings are the same.

Public Hearing #2
Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at 6:30 PM
Bus Depot, 8111 Lee Paul Road, Bloomington, IN 47408

Public Hearing #3
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at 6:30 PM
Bloomington Township Fire Dept. Station #5, 5081 N. Old State Road 37, Bloomington, IN 47408