GREENFIELD — A holdup in funding for the Greenfield Fire Territory’s 2015 budget has the department’s chief worried it might not be able to adequately protect citizens in the event of an emergency.
A state agency and the City of Greenfield are still debating this year’s budget, and Fire Chief James Roberts has been told to hold off on hiring three new firefighter/paramedics he said the department needs.
“The way we’re sitting right now, I don’t feel we’re adequately protecting the citizens at our staffing level,” he said. “That’s the frustrating part on my end.”
The holdup is part of an ongoing disagreement the city has had with Indiana Department of Local Government Finance about how much money the fire territory — which was formed to provide fire and emergency medical services to both Greenfield and Center Township residents at the same tax rate — can collect from taxpayers.
That means it’s not clear what Greenfield and Center Township taxpayers will owe in property taxes this year, and the fire department’s budget might be underfunded by about $880,000 this year, said clerk-treasurer Larry Breese.
Attorneys for the city and the DLGF are still working out a settlement agreement following a lawsuit over taxation for the fire department.
The legal woes started in 2011 when the DLGF ruled that the fire department should not be allowed to collect so much in taxes from local residents.
That ruling followed special legislation from local legislators that required the DLGF to review Greenfield’s fire territory tax rate after many rural residents expressed concern about a spike in their property taxes following its formation.
In November, the Indiana Tax Court ruled in the city’s favor, stating the DLGF’s decision in 2011 regarding how much the department can take from taxes was invalid. The ruling required the DLGF to reinstate the department’s original tax rates for 2012.
That means the city’s maximum levy — the amount that can be collected in taxes — for the fire department should be reinstated at $2.7 million for 2015 so the department can be sufficiently funded, Breese said.
But in a budget notice the city received in January, the DLGF stated the levy should be $2.3 million, he said.
Breese said the DLGF sent the budget notice prior to it and the city settling an agreement about what the maximum tax levy should be.
Once that agreement is made, the disagreement about what Greenfield can collect for the fire department should be solved, Breese said.
“At this point in time, we’re just waiting,” he said. “They’re the ones who calculate the levy, so the ball’s kind of in their court … I think it will be reasonably close to what we think it should be.”
In the meantime, the city, and every government entity in Hancock County, is waiting to get its final approved budget from the DLGF.
The city and the Indiana attorney general’s office are working toward a resolution, said Jenny Banks, director of communications for the DLGF.
Once that resolution comes, all budget orders for the county will follow.
But Breese has no idea when that will happen; further negotiations might need to happen to appease both the city and the state department, he said.
“It has to be done right, but they’re on a clock, too, so to speak,” he said. “It’s more complicated than normal.”
The fire department is the only city department with a budget that’s up in the air.
“The fire chief has been kept in the loop on all this so he’s aware,” Breese said. “He’s watching his spending to some degree, but … we’re not shutting the doors.”
Once the resolution is made, the city hopes there’s closure to the nearly four-year-long debate.
“We’ve had this cloud hanging over us now for going on four years; it’s time to have some resolve with it,” the clerk-treasurer said. “We just want to get what’s fair and what’s right … so we can move forward.”