Center Township likely headed for volunteer fire coverage in 2018
Board to meet
Thursday to make official decision on 'fire contracts'
Residents of the Darrough
Chapel and Tall Oaks subdivisions will learn Thursday how their homes
will receive fire coverage in 2018.
however, point toward an answer that many of those same residents,
living in unincorporated Center Township, have already argued fervently
The Center Township Board
will meet at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Center Township Trustee Office,
213 E. Jefferson St., to discuss “special business,” specifically “fire
contracts for the unincorporated areas of the township,” according to a
meeting notice distributed this week.
For months, the issue of
2018 fire coverage in the two subdivisions has been both a concern and
controversy, as residents wondered whether city officials and township
representatives could come to an agreement to continue Kokomo Fire
Department coverage in the unincorporated areas.
The other option, one met
with unease by unincorporated residents, is volunteer fire protection.
Service from volunteer fire departments in Galveston, Taylor Township
and Greentown have previously been discussed as options.
Notably, in late
September, the two sides came to an agreement to temporarily extend KFD
coverage to the township’s unincorporated residents – but the issue was
then far from resolved.
An agreement was reached,
as the clock ticked toward a 4 p.m. Sept. 29 deadline, for the KFD to
cover unincorporated Center Township, including the Darrough Chapel and
Tall Oaks subdivisions, through the remainder of 2017. The existing
contract between the two sides was set to expire Oct. 1.
In exchange, the city
took over ownership of roughly $300,000 in loaned equipment from Center
Township, including a fire truck, a hazmat trailer and more, all of
which was previously scheduled to be purchased by the city.
The two sides agreed to
continue negotiations toward a multi-year contract to maintain KFD
coverage in those areas. At the time, Center Township Trustee Dr.
Robert Lee said he would use the extension to undertake “increased
feasibility studies on…where we need to go and what we need to do” for
a long-term contract.
Lee did not respond to a
request for comment sent Tuesday.
Those negotiations –
according to correspondence between Lee and Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight
obtained by the Tribune – were brief and unsuccessful.
Initially, news broke in
early September that officials from the city and township were
negotiating a new fire protection contract which, if agreed upon, would
continue KFD service in the township’s unincorporated areas into 2018.
The KFD presently covers
the roughly 4.5 square miles of unincorporated property in Center
Township, which includes the Tall Oaks and Darrough Chapel
neighborhoods and swaths of farmland.
Inside city limits, the
KFD covers about 36 square miles, according to Goodnight. That puts
unincorporated Center Township at roughly 10 percent of the KFD
coverage area, a figure that’s also found itself at the center of the
fire protection payment conversation.
In a previous interview,
Goodnight explained that the city’s fire budget for 2017 is just under
$10.5 million. In addition, he noted, the fire pension is roughly $3.9
Combined, that puts this
year’s cost at $14.38 million, a figure Goodnight said he’s explained
to Center Township officials. The city’s 2018 budget has the cost at
just below $14 million.
“That’s what I explained,
that’s the true cost,” he said. “That’s what it costs all taxpayers in
the city, because it’s a city budget. To cover their 10 percent …
that’d be somewhere around $1.4 million, a little over $1.4 million.
“That’s the true cost.
And over 90 percent of that is personnel costs of the fire budget, for
active and retired firefighters.”
In comparison, the Center
Township Board approved a 2018 budget of $2.4 million, including $500
bonuses for township employees. A total of $100,000 is budgeted for
That discrepancy – from
$100,000 to $1.4 million, a figure described as “strong-armed robbery”
by Center Township Board member Linda Koontz – seems to have proved too
In a letter dated Dec.
12, Lee said the $1.4 million number is “significantly more expensive
than previous years and well beyond Center Township’s budgetary
allocation for fire protection. Consequently, Center Township
respectfully declines” to pay that amount.
In a public records
request to Kokomo corporation counsel Beth Copeland, the Tribune
requested records and copies of “any official communication between
[Goodnight] and [Lee] during 2017." The Dec. 12 letter was the first
official written communication between the two sides following the
Sept. 29 agreement to continue negotiations.
Download PDF Fire
protection letters between Lee, Goodnight Lee later said in his
letter that Center Township had “explored other bids from capable fire
protection service providers” and offered the city the “opportunity to
match the current $100,000 quote we have received.”
“If the City cannot offer
the price requested, Center Township will [go] elsewhere for fire
protection in the unconsolidated areas of the township,” Lee wrote.
Koontz has also said she
believes the city is trying to get Center Township to spend down it’s
more than $3 million rainy day fund, which township officials say
cannot be utilized for fire protection due to statute limitations.
limitations like a max fire levy of $75,000 for the unincorporated
areas, say Center Township officials, prohibit them from spending
anywhere close to the figures that have been publicly discussed.
However, in response to
Lee’s letter dated Dec. 15, Goodnight said that “we anticipated hearing
from you well before receiving your letter on December 14.”
But most important,
Goodnight said that in response to the proposal of a $100,000 per year
fire protection agreement he “cannot in good conscience agree to those
“The City of Kokomo
employs paid, professional union firefighters. You are asking for their
services at a drastically subsidized rate in order to match a quote
provided to you from non-union, volunteer fire departments,” he added.
A group of Darrough
Chapel residents attended a meeting in late August to let the Center
Township Board know they wanted continued fire service through the KFD.
Some of the same residents attended a subsequent Common Council meeting
to express the same concerns.
One of those residents,
Vicki Douglas, told both the Common Council and the township board that
Darrough Chapel homes will be in danger if the neighborhood isn’t
protected by the KFD. On Sept. 29, Douglas also spoke of seeking
annexation for the Darrough Chapel neighborhood.
the city fire protection,” she said to the Common Council. “However,
we’re quite concerned that if that is not negotiated in good faith and
we lose that, that our homes are in peril. Because Greentown and Taylor
Township volunteer [fire departments] are not going to be adequate
protection for our homes.”
“We don’t want to hear
volunteer. I’m sorry, we don’t want to hear volunteer,” Douglas also
noted to the township board.
George Myers can be reached at
765-454-8585, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter