PIERCETON — Representatives from three Kosciusko County townships, as well as firefighters, Pierceton Town Council members and township advisory board members, held a preliminary discussion on Thursday, June 20, in regards to potentially establishing a fire territory.
Pierceton Fire Chief Gordon Baker set up the discussion-based meeting involving representatives from Washington, Monroe and Jackson Townships. The three townships are located on the southeastern side of Kosciusko County and include the towns of Pierceton and Sidney.
Paige Sansone, a CPA with Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors in Indianapolis, was present at the meeting to discuss facts regarding fire territories and to answer any questions those in attendance had about establishing a fire territory.
“Fire territories are created to establish a new funding source for fire protection in communities who have declining resources,” said Sansone. “For rural areas, it’s harder and harder to get volunteers because volunteers have jobs and they can’t necessarily get away from that during the day. The fire territories that we’ve helped establish in the last couple years have been in a lot of rural areas. It allows there to be at least two people on station full-time.”
According to Sansone, establishing fire territories spreads the cost of fire services over a larger tax base and allows for improved response times.
“They’re established by at least two taxing units, so in your case, townships, that share boundaries,” said Sansone.
Fire territories are required to be established after Jan. 1, but before April 1. Three public, joint hearings also must be held regarding the establishment of a fire territory. Each meeting must follow the same structure, with presentations by legislative bodies, fire departments and a financial advisor.
“The most difficult aspect I see with establishing a fire territory is cooperation,” said Sansone. “Sometimes, it’s hard to determine which unit will be designated as the ‘provider unit.'”
The ‘provider unit’ would handle all budgetary and fiscal matters for the fire territory.
“Volunteerism for fire departments is on the decline nationwide,” said Baker. “Nowadays, it takes six to eight months of strictly fire training to be a part of a fire department, regardless of if it’s career or volunteer. We have a lot of increased traffic on US 30 and SR 13. And it’s been very hard to find volunteers.”
Meeting attendees agreed to hold a second preliminary meeting for the fire territory at 6 p.m. Aug. 21. Several attendees expressed the need to think the decision over, as well as allow enough time for each township to meet separately and discuss the matter.
A final decision as to whether the three townships should or should not establish a fire territory has not been made.