CUMBERLAND — Buck Creek Volunteer Fire Department will continue to serve the Hancock County side of Cumberland for at least the next 10 years, ending worries that drastic funding cuts would mean layoffs.
The Cumberland Town Council on Wednesday unanimously agreed to a contract that promises funding to Buck Creek Township from 2013 to 2022.
Cumberland straddles the Hancock/Marion County line, and for years fire protection and ambulance service have been split between two fire departments. The Buck Creek Township department has been responding to alarms and ambulance calls on the Hancock County side for decades, while the Indianapolis Fire Department responds on the Marion County side.
Council members had, however, been talking with IFD about covering the entire community, which would have ended funding to the township department. Councilman Joe Siefker has been looking into the issue for more than a year, trying to see whether a change to one department would save money.
Wednesday’s agreement means service will remain the same for residents in the entire community, officials say, with annual budgeting woes done and over with.
Mel Branson, Buck Creek Township trustee, said it also means the mix of volunteer and paid staff at the fire department will remain intact. If the town had contracted entirely with the IFD, more than $200,000 would have been slashed from the township’s annual budget.
“We would have had to take some drastic measures if that’d happened, so it’s going to work out for us,” Branson said.
Cumberland pays Buck Creek Township every year for its fire services, and for the past five years, the amount has been increasing steadily. This year, Cumberland is paying $220,000 to Buck Creek Township, but Branson has argued that figure should be at least $260,000. That’s based on assessed value of homes, if Cumberland residents were taxed for fire protection like rural township residents are.
But town officials have said finances are tight and they can’t afford high annual increases to Buck Creek.
Per the new agreement, in 2013 Cumberland will pay $220,000 to Buck Creek again. But the amount will increase by $10,000 every year thereafter, so by 2022 Cumberland will pay Buck Creek $310,000. There’s also a clause in the contract that the figure can be adjusted if Cumberland annexes more land into town limits.
Officials were all smiles at the meeting, some joking that it was a miracle an agreement had been made after years of butting heads over figures.
“I don’t care what you’re in; you don’t get everything you want,” Branson said after the meeting. “You try to do something where everybody is a winner, and that’s my kind of philosophy.”
Councilwoman Anna Pea said the council nixed the idea of going entirely with the IFD for fire protection because it may have proved difficult for the city department to respond to emergencies in Hancock County.
“We were concerned with backup with Indianapolis, if something else was going on,” Pea said.
If a major event tied up crews in Indianapolis, Pea said, Cumberland would be unprotected. While Buck Creek would likely respond to an emergency anyway, it’s only fair that Cumberland continues to pay the township department for its services.
The contract also helps both the township and the town budget every year, so there isn’t constant negotiation between the two parties.
“We figured a long-term agreement would be beneficial to both sides,” Siefker said.
The township department has 13 full-time employees plus 53 volunteers. Chief Dave Sutherlin said both types of employees would have been affected if Cumberland had slashed funds to the department. Some full-time employees would have been laid off, he said, and the volunteers would have had to pick up the slack. One of the two fire departments may have also closed.
With the deal signed Wednesday, Sutherlin said, residents won’t see a change in their fire protection.
“Since they signed with us, it’s still going to be the same it has been for the last 50 years,” he said. “Marion County is going to take care of Marion County, and Buck Creek is going to take care of Hancock County.”