Q&A: Should Washington Township and Nashville establish a new fire protection territory?

Questions asked at the July 7 Nashville Town Council-Washington Township Advisory Board joint meeting about forming a new fire protection territory, funded by property taxpayers in those areas:

(Read a full story in the July 20 paper.)

(Read background on this issue by clicking on the “firefighting” and “fire territory” tabs at the bottom of this page.)

Would the paid firefighters that Nashville and Washington Township taxpayers’ money would support be routinely called to other areas of the county?

Brown County (Nashville) Volunteer Fire Department Chief Micah Fox said mutual aid agreements will be the same as they are now: If another fire department calls for his station’s help, he’ll send it.

He doesn’t believe the Brown County VFD, based in Nashville, will become the fire department for the entire county, because dispatchers are still required to call the department closest to a fire. If no one is available to respond from that department, and his department was the next-closest, yes, someone would respond, same as they would now.

“I do not see us in any way shape or form becoming a countywide fire department,” he said.

What is the maximum tax levy the fire territory would ask for?

Fox said he couldn’t answer that question yet; the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance would have to be involved.

Town council member Arthur Omberg, during the meeting, calculated that to get about $300,000 to cover the budget Fox presented, town and township taxpayers would need to be charged between 8 and 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

“I can tell you we are in no way going to ask for anything more than what it takes to operate the fire department, and that’s it,” Fox said.

Could the town have a fire territory without involving Washington Township?

No, Omberg said. The tax burden would be too great on town taxpayers to be able to support the budget the fire department has presented for paid staff. Adding township taxpayers to that tax base allows the cost to be spread among more people.

“They can’t afford to do it without us, and we can’t do it without them,” he said.

Why not revive the Brown County Fire Protection District instead, which could have provided funding to place one or two paid firefighters at the stations around the county?

Fox said one person cannot put a fire out by themselves.

Taxpayer Ruth Reichmann said one paid person could have a truck ready to go and know which volunteers they could call on for help at any given hour. “That would be the fair way to the county. This is what I don’t like, is you put everything on Washington taxpayers.”

“This plan is not for a countywide fire department,” Fox said.

“I know, and that’s the problem,” Reichmann said.

Fox said every fire department in the county is able to form a fire territory if they wish.

Brown County Redevelopment Commission member Jim Schultz said he would rather see a countywide fire district because he believes it would be more of a help to economic development than a small fire territory.

Fox’s written proposal brought up other concerns with the Brown County Fire Protection District. It said the majority of tax money it raised would have come from Washington Township because of the value of property there versus the value of property in the other townships. “Washington Township money should stay in Washington Township,” Fox said.

The written proposal also mentioned the way the Brown County Fire Protection District board members are appointed, by the county commissioners. One commissioner represents the area covered by the Hamblen Township Fire Protection District, which is not involved in the Brown County Fire Protection District. “This means one of the commissioners would have a say in who sits on the district board but has no representation responsibility,” the document said.

Would forming a fire territory guarantee a rate reduction on my homeowner’s insurance?

Having paid firefighters could help bring down a department’s ISO rating, which is used by many — but not all — insurance companies to calculate premiums. Former Brown County VFD Chief Dak Kelp said homeowners would have to contact their own agents to see what an improved ISO rating might do to their insurance bill.

What are the next steps?

Fox said a fire territory can only be established between January and March.

The next step is going before the Brown County Commissioners to ask them to let Washington Township out of the Brown County Fire Protection District, so the township can join the town in forming a fire territory. No date has been set for when they’ll approach the commissioners.

Read the fire department’s draft proposal here:

Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.