Letter: Taxes likely to go up even more with fire proposal

To the editor:

I predicted several months ago during the one-sided debate on the school referendum that people should consider that taxes in this county will be going up after the fall elections.

I was wrong. They’re going up even before the fall elections get here.

I had no illusions about the school referendum vote not being approved.

I have no illusions about the passing of the planned decision to create a paid fire department within Washington Township, either.

There are two very good reasons why.

The two largest single employers in this county are the Brown County school corporation and Brown County government. Employees, their spouses, significant others, families and friends will always support any tax increase that will result in pay and benefits increases.

This same constituency will also vote into offices school board, county council and commissioners, those friends, neighbors and “native Brown Countians” who will approve tax increases that will benefit them financially.

An additional wheel tax has been approved and will go into effect in 2017. Thankfully, the maximum that could have been levied was reduced — for now, anyway.

But those funds can only be used for road and bridge construction. Salaries, benefits, maintenance, equipment replacement and operational funding still need to be addressed and I have no doubt that there will be requested tax increases coming soon for those areas as well.

The state Legislature created this new law that allowed local governments to create this new wheel tax. The law is misdirected and has given local governments too much latitude with tax levies.

The fairest road and bridge levy is a “use” tax in the form of gasoline sales tax — not a tax on a two-wheel trailer that might get used two to three times a year to haul mulch.

So now comes the issue of the paid fire department in Washington Township. There are questions that need to be addressed.

What’s the yearly budget going to be? And how long before the levy doesn’t cover unanticipated operating costs that always crop up in such newly created agencies?

Will these positions be salaried or hourly?

How will the work schedule be determined? Forty-hour week? Eight-hour days? Many departments have staggered schedules with 24 hours on, 24 off, 24 on, then 48 or 72 hours off. What about after-scheduled-hours fire events? How will any overtime be paid?

Will members be required to stay at the station when on duty? What other work will they be doing when not on fire calls?

Are benefits going to be provided? Retirement?

Will a paid department be required by any law or statute to have comprehensive ongoing training?

If the planned five members are hired, will they all be called out to a fire event at any time one occurs?

If mutual aid is requested by another county department, I assume that any employed fire department members will be assisting in another township on Washington Township taxpayers’ “dime.”

By the same token, unpaid township members would be requested to assist in a fire call inside Washington Township alongside a paid firefighter. If that were me, I would somewhat resent that scenario.

And how does the addition of a paid department affect volunteer recruitment? It would seem to me a detriment to acquiring any new volunteers. Why would anyone volunteer to take the time to acquire the necessary training and be called out in the middle of the night in mid-January to a fire call working alongside a member who was getting paid for the same hard work?

It has been said that for volunteers, the opportunity of future employment would be an incentive. Don’t buy that. When this is approved and people are hired, they will hold onto the job as long as they can.

Something was stated that a paid department might result in less expensive fire insurance. Won’t happen. Check your insurer, but ours states the reason fire insurance is so high in Brown County is the lack of a fire hydrant system, i.e., water source, not lack of firefighters.

The commissioners will no doubt approve the disbanding of the fire district in favor of giving some of their friends and constituents a secure local government job. Yes, they can be voted out of office, but by then the damage will have been done.

So, in conclusion, as before, this issue will be approved. However, I feel that it is grossly unfair that we in Washington Township should fund the total bill for this grand scheme while others in the county do not, and with the possible need for mutual aid by another township, we will pay to fight their fires. What’s equitable about that?

We’ve lived in Brown County for almost 20 years now and are still considered “outsiders.” But aside from that, we had planned to stay here ’til the end.

But for the first time, we are taking a hard look at moving on, and at our age, that isn’t going to be easy.

I foresee continued tax increases in the future as individuals who still have incomes are making these costly additions that affect, greatly, low- and retirement-income families and individuals.

J.D Ray, Washington Township

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