By Dan Spalding
WARSAW — A plan in which firefighters would respond to and assist with mental health emergencies – first discussed a year ago by the city of Warsaw – continues to slowly take shape.
Whether it materializes in 2022 is anybody’s guess as officials continue to develop budgets for the upcoming year.
Mayor Joe Thallemer introduced the idea a year ago and has been embraced by the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory, which is proposing the creation of four new positions that could include a coordinator for the service.
While four new positions are part of the budget, Thallemer warned earlier this week that the tax rate could end up increasing a few cents and that new personnel included in the 2022 proposal is creating a “pressure point” as the budget takes shape.
One of those increases in personnel is with the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory, which is laying the groundwork for implementing an emergency mental health program that would provide emergency responders with a way to assist those with immediate mental health issues.
The increase would add depth to the three fire stations and a chance to implement a program that’s growing in popularity across various parts of the country, including one in Fishers.
Fire Chief Mike Wilson on Monday explained to city council members how the program could work initially.
The EMS coordinator and the fire chief would field calls for the service and oversee response efforts during the day shift. At night and on the weekends, the department would rely on paying somebody to be on call to continue the service.
Wilson said he’s unsure of the call volume the service could create.
If the program catches on, it could end up requiring a coordinator.
“If we copy what’s happening in Fishers, it’s going to be big. It’s going to be huge,” Wilson said.
On the other hand, Wilson admitted, “Again, it could be something that goes away.”
The fire department in Fishers has been developing a mental health initiative for several years in which the department fields calls and then works with a hospital group in seeing what can be done. The calls include anything and everything from panic attacks and suicidal ideation to substance abuse and diagnosed mental health issues, according to a story on WTHR in Indianapolis.
The most common calls involve depression and suicidal thoughts, which have increased dramatically since the pandemic, the story said.
The proposal is essentially a best-case scenario.
Thallemer told Wilson to craft a budget based on what he would like to have.
“There’s wish lists, (and) then there’s wants in here – and then there’s obviously needs,” Thallemer said referring to the budget.
“And as we get closer to the time where we need to reconcile our budget with the state, some of the wants and wishes may have to be put off, but they’re in there now so you can at least see what the desire is.”
Thallemer echoed another theme about budgets.
“If you can’t raise the funds, you can’t spend it. And it’s as simple as that. We’ve committed to the wages,” Thallemer said, adding that the need to keep competitive with wages is being felt nationwide.
In a related matter, Thallemer warned that despite the continued increasing assessed valuation, the city of Warsaw could see a slight increase in the tax rate as a result of the state levy.
The increased levy could push the rate up by seven cents, but the extra assessed valuation will reduce that by three cents, leaving the tax rate to possibly rise by four cents.
Much of the increase in assessed value is from recent annexations.
“We have to protect our community in the expanded area that we’ve got. The increase in the assessed value requires that we’re more diligent in our services,” he said.
On a good note, Thallemer said they had anticipated healthcare premiums would rise 12 percent, but that they now believe that those premiums might actually fall, a move that rarely happens.
The city tax rate in 2019 was 1.279 cents per $100 of assessed value but dipped to 1.182 in 2020 as a result of annexation. The current rate is $1.96