By Leah Sander
PIERCETON — Decision time is looming for the town of Pierceton and two townships on whether to move forward this year with creating a fire territory.
Those attending the Wednesday, Jan. 12, special meeting on the topic included Pierceton Town Council members Mandy Espinoza, Matt Brubaker and Tom Barker, Washington Township Trustee Dean Rhoades, Monroe Township Trustee Stephanie Cloud and Pierceton Fire Chief Gordon Baker.
Pierceton and the two townships are working again on forming a fire territory after a similar effort failed a few years ago. Wednesday’s meeting was the second public informational meeting for the new effort.
Under Indiana law, final approval on creating a fire territory must be done by April 1 of the year prior to the territory officially starting. There would also need to be several public hearings held before a vote could be taken regarding the territory.
Pierceton Town Council has scheduled a public meeting to decide whether to proceed with the territory at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 17, at the community building. The townships are also to meet soon to decide.
At the special meeting on Wednesday, Baker Tilly’s Paige Sansone also was present, attending electronically. The company was hired to do a rate study on establishing the territory.
At a meeting last month, Sansone provided what tax rate increases could look like based on a proposed three-year budget for the territory. On Wednesday, she provided new rates based on three scenarios that she figured out after getting feedback from officials.
The first scenario included a budget of $495,000 for 2023, $693,000 for 2024 and $866,300 for 2025. Under it, those owning property in Pierceton could see their tax rates increase by 6.7% in 2023 with additional increases of 2.6% in 2024 and 2.5% in 2025.
For Monroe Township, property owners could see their rates go up 11.3% in 2023 with additional increases of 3.5% in 2024 and 3.3% in 2025. In Washington Township, those rates could increase 9% in 2023 with additional increases of 3.3% in 2024 and 3.2% in 2025.
The second scenario includes fire territory budgets of $600,000 for 2023, $812,800 for 2024 and $984,000 for 2025.
Under that, Pierceton property owners could see their tax rates jump up 9.1% in 2023 with additional increases of 2.6% in both 2024 and 2025. For Monroe Township, owners could see rates go up 14.6% in 2023 with additional increases of 3.5% in 2024 and 3.4% in 2025.
For Washington Township, rates could be 12.1% higher in 2023 with additional increases of 3.3% in both 2024 and 2025.
Under the third proposal, budgets would be $686,000 in 2023, $766,000 in 2024 and $908,000 in 2025.
Pierceton property owners could see their tax rates go up 11.1% in 2023, drop 0.1% in 2024 and go up again 2.1% in 2025.
In Monroe Township, rates could go up 17.3% in 2023, drop 0.1% in 2024 and go up again 2.7% in 2025.
For Washington Township, rates could rise 14.5% in 2023, drop 0.1% in 2024 and go up again 2.7% in 2025.
Under the last scenario, the decreasing rates in the second year are influenced by cash reserves being generated in the first year.
Sansone made adjustments based on factors such as changing the number of firefighters hired from the original plan from December.
Officials also discussed their opinions of the territory. Espinoza and Barker expressed concerns that businesses in Pierceton wouldn’t necessarily approve of higher tax rates.
Rhoades said he believed his township would have issues with the rates.
Baker advocated for creating a territory.
“It truly goes beyond fire protection,” he said. “I mean there’s rescue scenarios that everybody’s subject to. I mean it goes beyond just fighting fires. The fire department’s so much more than that now.”