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Source: Kokomo Perspective

Clock ticking on Center Township fire protection deal

By Devin Zimmerman
Dec 6, 2017

Only a month remains for Center Township Trustee Rev. Robert Lee to finalize plans for Tall Oaks and Darrough Chapel to receive fire protection, and the trustee said it’s likely those areas will receive volunteer fire protection next year.

This comes despite the fact that the Lee knew for a year about the impending expiration of the fire protection contract previously held between the city of Kokomo and the township, which saw Kokomo Fire Department covering the unincorporated areas of the township.

Compounding the issue is the fact that Lee was forced to negotiate an extension on the contract with Kokomo in October, after he was unable to formulate a contract before a previous deadline of Oct. 1, to extend fire protection through the end of this year. That extension cost Lee about $350,000, three times Center Township’s budget for fire protection next year, which was coming from Kokomo for fire equipment the township held.

With the deadline looming, citizens of Darrough Chapel expressed frustration with Lee’s efforts in ensuring they receive fire protection, and they aren’t satisfied with what they view as a lack of action on his part to negotiate with the city of Kokomo.

“I think what we need, as a neighborhood, to know is has there been any further negotiation with the city?” said Vicki Douglas, a resident of Darrough Chapel for 46 years. “We don’t believe it’s the mayor’s responsibility to go to the board of trustees and say, ‘This is what I’m willing to give. Here’s my negotiating figure.’ We believe that in the process that negotiation needs to go the other direction. We just want to believe that the board of trustees has, in good faith, had negotiations with the city to bring that $1.4 million down to a more manageable figure for the board of trustees’ budget.”

Previously in the process, Mayor Greg Goodnight laid out a figure for Lee on what he believed would be a fair amount for the city to provide fire protection to the unincorporated areas. That figure, about $1.4 million, was based upon the unincorporated areas amounting to about 10 percent of KFD’s coverage area, thus in his reasoning meaning Center Township should cover 10 percent of the city’s $14 million total fire budget.

Lee acknowledged there was no “formal” effort on his part to provide the city with a counter offer to their $1.4 million figure. Rather, he said his efforts to renegotiate with the city took place through a “couple” of “informal” conversations with Goodnight. When asked if he ever provided a figure for protection the township could afford, the trustee admitted he gave no such figure to the city.

“No, no, because I was waiting to see what my alternatives were with the vendors,” said Lee.

As such, the trustee said he’s pursuing volunteer fire protection contracts for the unincorporated areas, through Galveston, Greentown, and Taylor Township volunteer fire departments.

When asked why the negotiations are coming down to the wire, Lee said, “That’s just the way the situation worked out. Yeah, I knew about it, and there were initial things that were done. They were just not real formal, but that’s why it’s come down to this.”

Lee said he hopes to have the contracts finalized with the volunteer fire departments by the middle of December.

But changing fire protection for the unincorporated areas from a professional department to volunteer would have multiple effects, none of which Darrough Chapel residents are pleased with. Aside from changes to response time, Douglas said homeowners are likely to be hit with increases to their homeowner insurance rates.

Douglas said she contacted an insurance agent to get an idea of how she would be affected, and she was informed that the shift would change their fire coverage from a class three protection rating to somewhere between a class five and nine protection rating. That shift would result in at least a $300 increase in insurance costs to her if it shifted to a class five rating. If given a class nine protection rating, the amount could be much higher.

“We have had someone say they contacted an agent, and theirs would double,” said Douglas. “So, it’s going to depend upon, as we understand it, each insurance company’s interpretation to decide whether we’re between that five or nine class … All of [the residents] that we have talked to have been [paying] $1,100 or $1,200 a year. That would probably double.”

With it likely the unincorporated areas will lose professional fire protection, Douglas said her neighborhood’s efforts to seek annexation from the city are underway.

Douglas said a petition has been created, and an informal committee formed in Darrough Chapel is likely to begin circulating it in hopes of garnering the required 51 percent of signatures from area residents. This would start the process of willful annexation by Darrough Chapel. Previously, the mayor said he’s open to such an annexation.

The long-time Darrough Chapel resident said residents are hopeful they’ll be able to avoid being stuck with volunteer services for a period as long as the previous five-year contract held between the city and township.

“Looking forward to five years of possible volunteer fire protection is not our goal,” said Douglas. “I will say that there are a fair amount of us who are in the process of reaching out to the rest of the Darrough Chapel community and possible voluntary annexation.”


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