Plan for South Madison Fire Territory discussed at hearing with residents, stakeholders
PENDLETON — Residents of Pendleton and Fall Creek and Green townships had an opportunity to hear extensively about plans for the South Madison Fire Territory — a proposal to provide better emergency care for resident in the areas — Tuesday at the Pendleton Fire Station.
About 100 people, including government officials, fire territory advisers and interested citizens and stakeholders were in attendance for what was the first of three such scheduled hearings.
With the growth of their communities and a difficulty attracting enough volunteers (the current fire department is made up entirely of volunteer firefighters) the need of a fire territory didn’t seem to be in question.
What drew the biggest concern was how it would be paid for.
Pendleton Fire Chief Chris Nodine and Baker Tilly consulting firm adviser Paige Sansone shared some of the facts involved with a three-year territory proposal from 2023-25.
Nodine spoke of the needs on the protection side, while Sansone discussed the financial ramification to local taxpayers.
The current Pendleton Fire Department is made up of all volunteers. With the fire territory, employees would be full -time. There would still be volunteers.
Nodine said his current roster of volunteers includes 46 members. He said 10 work at another fire department and 24 are residents outside of the three communities.
He said full-time firefighters would be able to give residents better response time and be more efficient and focused, with fire fighting being their primary job.
“The biggest thing is it provides staffing 24/7/365 ready to go at a moment’s notice and it’s efficient,” Nodine told the audience. “When the bell’s rung, all we have to do is go from our day room, get our gear and get on the truck. We don’t have to get up from home, out of bed, find our clothes, scrape the ice off the windshield, drive down to the fire station … We’re here and out the door.”
Nodine showed stats of how total runs have gone up the last six years from 1,500 runs in 2015 to 2,154 in 2021, which includes medical calls, auto accidents, fire calls, hazmat situations and other miscellaneous calls.
It was also noted in the meeting that the population growth in South Madison County is predicted to double in the next 10 years.
Nodine said, though there are still a lot of moving parts to the plan, he hoped to hire 10 to 12 full-time employees including administration during the first year and an additional 12-15 personnel in the second year.
The proposed budget for the territory in 2023 is $2.1 million and would increase to $5.1 million in 2024 and $6.6 million in 2025.
Sansone went over the budget, tax levies, annual tax liability impacts and property tax revenues, which included a significant decrease in revenue to both South Madison Community Schools and Pendleton Community Public Library.
An example of tax liability impact for properties not at the tax cap would be 7.7% increase in 2023, 12.9% in 2024 and 5% in 2025.
On property tax revenues, the proposal, over the three-year phase, would give the school system a combined loss of $610,905.
South Madison Superintendent Mark Hall was one of a handful of citizens/stakeholders to speak after the presentation.
“I want to say right off in the beginning we are not against the fire territory,” Hall said. “We are against the way the state makes us fund it and concerned about the timing of it. We understand our community is growing and public services are going to have to change. We are all on board with that.”
Hall recommended the councils look into current House Bill No. 1246, which he said he believes would give a financial benefit all involved including the territory and taxpayers. It would create a five-year phase instead of three years. He said it was a new bill co-authored by state representative Bob Cherry.
“We’ve had several meetings with the school systems and that was one of the biggest things. We went to the table and tried to figure out how we could go paid, and that’s a huge cost, and ease the burden,” Nodine said.
“(With the three-year phase) the impact was spread out over three years. I just heard about the new House bill today.”
Hall said the current proposal would be a big hit to the school district’s operational fund.
“(The bill) is going through the House now, and I know it allows fire territories to structure the phase for five years. That would be beneficial to the district if we could do that,” Hall said. “All of our operations would be impacted by that kind of money.
“Primarily it hits our operation fund, and our operation fund are primarily things away from the classroom. You have to transfer money out of our education fund to the operation fund to make up for that shortfall.”
The meeting was the first of three mandatory public hearings on the proposed fire protection territory. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23, at the Pendleton Fire Station.
The third public hearing is slated for Tuesday, March 8, also at 6 p.m. in the fire station.
After the third public hearing, Pendleton Town Council, Fall Creek Township Board and Green Township Board will vote to either adopt, reject or table the ordinance, resolutions and inter-local agreement for the fire territory.
Nodine said the second and third meetings will be similar to Tuesday’s in being an overview of the proposal.
The third meeting will include the vote from the councils.
The chief said a document of Tuesday’s presentation, including the financial numbers presented by Sansone, and other information, would be available soon on the fire department’s Facebook page and town of Pendleton website.