GREENFIELD — Ambulance service, protective gear, software upgrades and more will be purchased for local fire departments with funds approved this month by the Hancock County Council.
The council agreed to dole out more than $214,000 of local-option income tax money to eight local departments to buy equipment or subsidize ambulance service in 2015.
But it wasn’t an easy vote. The figure is more than twice the amount that was handed out last year, and some members of the council say the townships in the western part of the county have enough money on hand and shouldn’t have received funds.
At issue is what is considered a “fair” distribution of LOIT funds. Every county resident who earns income pays the tax, and LOIT money goes to cities, towns and county government to pay for public safety items. Township officials have said for years that it’s not fair they don’t get a share, so last year, county officials approved a formal application process.
In 2013, the county council handed out roughly $103,000 to townships, but excluded Sugar Creek and Buck Creek departments from getting funds. Councilman John Jessup, who heads the committee that reviews the applications, said he caught a lot of flak for that decision. This year, he wanted the full council to decide what to do with the western townships.
“If we are very limited on funds, then there are some townships that need that assistance much more than Sugar Creek and Buck Creek,” Jessup said. “You can make an argument if we had very limited funds, it would make sense to help the townships that need the most help, not the ones with the bigger tax rates.”
Still, Jessup ended up voting in favor of a plan to give money to all the departments who applied. He said this time around, he understands the perspective that everybody chips into the LOIT fund so each township should get something.
“In fact, the people who live in Buck Creek and Sugar Creek pay a large percentage of (the LOIT) because their incomes are higher, and they pay more of an income tax.”
But other members thought Buck Creek and Sugar Creek shouldn’t get LOIT funds.
“I don’t think the bigger townships really should have that money,” said Debbie Bledsoe. “They have paid firemen and everything.”
They also questioned giving the Fountaintown Fire Department money because the agency is in Shelby County. Still, Fountaintown services Brandywine Township and wanted funds to upgrade reporting software.
Kent Fisk made a motion to exclude Fountaintown, Buck Creek and Sugar Creek townships, but nobody seconded the motion. In the end, the majority of the council voted to grant LOIT money to all of the departments who applied; Bledsoe, Bill Bolander and Jim Shelby voted against the plan.
“I don’t think the issue is over,” Bolander said this week, adding that he will ask council members if they want to bring up the grants for a vote again at next month’s meeting. “I think we’ll probably revisit it after we’ve thought it through.”
But Mel Branson, trustee or Buck Creek Township, is grateful the department received money this time around.
“The taxpayers of Buck Creek and Sugar Creek … are paying the local income tax, and (last year) we weren’t receiving any of that money back,” he said. “We felt like the taxpayers here that are putting in should get something for local things.”
Buck Creek will get $30,000 for ambulance supplies; Sugar Creek will get $25,726 for setup fees for InterAct, a new countywide dispatch system.
The largest LOIT grant went to the Greenfield Fire Territory to subsidize ambulance service for Brown, Green, Jackson, Blue River and Brandywine townships. Historically, the county had provided $250,000 a year for ambulance service to the eastern townships but phased out the subsidy in 2009. That left townships in a bind because property tax caps prohibit them from raising more money for ambulance services.
Several small, volunteer departments are getting money for equipment like protective clothing, thermal imaging cameras or cylinders for self-contained breathing apparatuses.
Andy Ebbert, chief of the Shirley Volunteer Fire Department, said Brown Township and Shirley are both strapped for cash to buy new equipment. The department will buy a new fire hose and breathing apparatus cylinders with the $11,750 grant.
“It helps us out quite a bit with offsetting the budget,” Ebbert said. “The town gets the LOIT money but the townships aren’t able to. So this gives the townships direct access to the money the township residents are putting in.”
FIRE DEPARTMENT GRANTS
Local fire departments are getting funding from Hancock County’s local-option income tax in 2015 for various services and equipment. Here’s a look at grants approved recently by the Hancock County Council:
Greenfield Fire Territory: $75,000 for basic and advanced life support for Brown, Green, Jackson, Blue River and Brandywine townships
Green Township Volunteer Fire Department: $19,800 for equipment, including self-contained breathing apparatus cylinders and protective clothing
Shirley Volunteer Fire Department: $11,750 for self-contained breathing apparatus cylinders and a fire hose
Wilkinson Fire Department: $10,450 for thermal imaging camera and protective clothing
Vernon Township Fire Department: $31,600 for self-contained breathing apparatus cylinders
Sugar Creek Fire Department: $25,726 for setup fees, licensing fees and training for InterAct, a new countywide computer-dispatch system
Buck Creek Fire Department: $30,000 for supplies for ambulances
Fountaintown Fire Department: $10,000 for paperless reporting software
Source: Hancock County Auditor