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Source: Kokomo Tribune

April 13, 2012

City lays out fire protection plans for annexed areas

Contractors installing 145 new hydrants

Tribune staff writer

— The city of Kokomo will install 145 new fire hydrants as part of a plan to provide fire protection to newly-annexed areas of the city, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight announced Friday.

At a cost of around $250,000, the hydrants are a cheaper means of getting service to outlying areas than the cost of the city purchasing and manning a water tanker truck, Goodnight said.

Last year, city firefighters increased their training in “drafting” — the method of drawing water out of a temporary pool to fight fires.

That’s because the newly-annexed areas stretch two miles from current city boundaries in places, and many of those areas didn’t have fire hydrants.

Now, the plan is to run hydrants throughout the annexation areas. So far, 16 hydrants have been installed, starting with the Ivy Hills neighborhood. Eventually, the city will install 45 hydrants in the West Side Annexation area, and 100 in the East Side Annexation area, city director of operations Randy Morris said.

The other major capital project related to annexation will be building a new fire station in the 3500 block of South Dixon Road.

Goodnight said the cost will not exceed $1.5 million.

“It won’t be as large as the new station on Center Road,” Goodnight said. “It will have one engine housed there, not an engine and a squad truck.”

As contract negotiations move forward between the city and the Kokomo Professional Firefighters Local 396, the big question right now concerns staffing levels.

The city currently has several firefighters’ salaries covered by federal grant money, and the original grants run out this summer. The firefighters’ contract also expires this year.

“We don’t have any plans to add personnel,” Goodnight said Friday. “Some of the staffing questions will be decided in this year’s contract negotiations.”

The average firefighter costs taxpayers $87,000 a year in salary and benefits, and every new piece of equipment has to be manned by at least one firefighter per shift.

That means the city would have been required to assign three firefighters to a new water tanker.

Installing more hydrants “keeps our costs for fire protection down in the long run,” Goodnight said.

City officials and Harrison Township officials also moved this week to clarify the state of negotiations over fire protection in Harrison Township.

Harrison Township is still collecting property taxes from the newly-annexed residents this year, so the township volunteer fire department will continue providing fire protection to those areas through Dec. 31, Harrison Township Trustee Joyce Ancil said.

Last year, city and township officials met to discuss fire protection, and came to an agreement, she said.

After this year, the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Department will continue to serve the areas west of 300 West and south of Ind. 26, she said.

At one point, prior to Ancil taking her current post last year, city officials had discussed the city taking over fire protection for the entire township, which stretches out to 600 West.

Those discussions have been over for some time.

Despite losing much of its tax base to annexation, the volunteer department will continue to exist, operating out of the station at Alto Road.

Goodnight indicated mixed feelings about continuing to have two departments in the township.

“It depends on which group you’re looking at — the city taxpayers, or the taxpayers in Harrison Township outside the city limits,” Goodnight said when asked if consolidation would have been a better option.

“We were serious about considering it, but only if it was good mutually for all parties concerned.”

• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via email at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com

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