departments to cover Tall Oaks, Darrough Chapel in 2018 despite
Township, city officials spar over failed negotiations
Myers Residents of Darrough
Chapel and Tall Oaks, in unincorporated Center Township, learned
Thursday that they will receive coverage from volunteer fire
departments in 2018, and not the Kokomo Fire Department.
The Center Township Board
announced in a special meeting Thursday morning, attended by
roughly 20 community members, that agreements had been reached for the
Greentown Volunteer Fire Department to cover Darrough Chapel and the
Galveston Volunteer Fire Department to cover Tall Oaks.
The decision creates a
wide rift between residents in the unincorporated areas of Center
Township, who have long bemoaned the idea of switching to volunteer
coverage, and township officials, who believe the city of Kokomo priced
them out of KFD’s services.
Contracts, however, have
yet to be finalized, and board members will meet again at 10:30 a.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 27 to announce contractual details.
unveiled by the board Thursday included a one-year agreement with
Galveston worth $25,000 and a five-year agreement with Greentown worth
$57,000 in the first year, with a 5 percent increase each subsequent
But members decided that
because residents have made clear their intention to seek annexation
for portions of Darrough Chapel they would instead seek two one-year
agreements. Notably, the KFD would cover any areas annexed by the city.
In an interview, Kokomo
Mayor Greg Goodnight confirmed that the city has received a petition
for the annexation of part of Darrough Chapel.
“If they request to be
annexed, yes, we are willing to bring them into the city,” he said.
“But we are not going to do any – we are not going to take the
initiative to do so. These are completely voluntary decisions by the
meeting, multiple residents spoke out against the way Center Township
officials, specifically Trustee Dr. Robert Lee, handled negotiations
with the city of Kokomo. Those negotiations – according to
correspondence between Lee and Goodnight obtained by the Tribune – were
brief and unsuccessful.
Only one formal
communication, a letter dated Dec. 12, was provided by Lee to city
officials. The letter said that if the city could not match a $100,000
offer for annual coverage, the township would go elsewhere.
In a return letter,
Goodnight, who had publicly discussed a $1.4 million figure, declined
Goodnight created his
total from the fact unincorporated Center Township comprises roughly 10
percent of the KFD coverage area. And with the KFD budget at $14
million for 2018, Goodnight publicly broached a $1.4 million total.
Some associated with
Center Township have argued with the square-mileage approach, saying it
would be more accurate to instead count homes, population, assessed
value or something similar.
Others on Thursday
criticized the township’s decision to give roughly $300,000 in loaned
equipment to the city to cover the last three months of 2017, including
a fire truck, a hazmat trailer and more, all of which was previously
scheduled to be purchased by the city.
But mostly, residents
again expressed concerns about the switch from the KFD to volunteer
coverage and the increased response times it's expected to bring.
Homeowners could also see
a bump in insurance costs, as the Insurance Information Institute says
on its website: “You may pay less for insurance if you buy a house
close to a fire hydrant or in a community that has a professional
rather than a volunteer fire department.”
“I want each and every
one of you to put a price tag on somebody’s life,” said township
resident Charles Morgan. “I don’t care about that house of mine, if it
burns to the ground. That don’t matter, that’s what we all have
“But I do care about the
lives that could be lost because…something’s not right here.”
However, various Center
Township officials argued that the city was not proactive enough in
initiating negotiations, which they believe was a precedent set during
negotiation periods under Jean Lushin, the township’s former trustee.
Lee said that contracts
in 1999, 2005 and 2012 between the two sides were all initiated when
the Kokomo Board of Public Works and city officials came to the
township. Goodnight called those claims “not true,” saying Lushin was
always the first to call.
Goodnight also questioned
why the township initiated formal talks with volunteer fire departments
but not the city. Taylor Township Trustee Paul Munoz confirmed that Lee
contacted him to discuss fire protection for Darrough Chapel; the two
sides then scheduled a sit-down meeting, and Taylor Township later
drafted a proposal.
“I never received a
formal proposal, so I responded in kind” to the city, said Lee on
One Center Township board
member, however, argued that state statute places the burden of fire
protection, and subsequent contract negotiations, squarely on the
shoulders of township officials.
“At the end of the day,
we are the ones responsible for providing fire protection, not the
city, not anybody else,” said board member Steve Geiselman. “So we
would have to be more proactive in that than the people, the
organization…we are trying to purchase the product from.”
“The thing that really
has me, that bothers me about this, that’s frustrating, is that every
person that’s sitting at this table…we all enjoy the protection from
professional career firefighters,” he added. “And we’re telling these
people who don’t happen to live in the City of Kokomo that we can’t try
to work out a way that they enjoy the same fire protection. And I think
Geiselman, a city
employee, also expressed his belief that increased negotiations could
have led to a middle ground – possibly around $500,000. At one point,
Geiselman suggested that the township could have increased the tax levy
to raise additional money for fire protection from the KFD.
Similarly, Goodnight said
the city “of course” would have been willing to try to find common
ground if Center Township had started a back-and-forth. He is still
open to idea.
“If [Lee] did it
tomorrow, yea, we’d look at it,” he noted. “I just told him, that's
one-tenth of the total cost. …So yes, of course we’d be willing to look
at a different number. But it’d have to be something that is
Comptroller Andrew Durham explained, though, that the process of
significantly raising the tax levy would be difficult. To get to
$500,000, he said, the township would have to get permission from the
Statehouse, something that's not assured to happen.
And one township board
member, Linda Koontz, even insinuated that Goodnight’s role as mayor
should be restricted through state statute.
“One of the things I have
learned through the tenure of Greg Goodnight is statutes need to be
changed about the authority the mayor has, because it is tremendous
authority,” she said. “And it’s pretty much unchecked.”
In response, Goodnight
questioned Koontz’s thought process.
“I find it odd she
simultaneously wants me to take the lead on fire negotiations yet
complains that I have too much authority, when I’ve already given up my
authority over the dispatch services, I’ve given up my authority on
control over EMA, over weights and measures, all voluntarily,” he said.
“And I’ve given up my
authority now to respond to fires in the unincorporated areas of Center
Township. I don’t see any logic in her comments.”
Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at
email@example.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.