Legislation could allow more funding for new Vernon Fire Department

Vernon Township opened a new fire station in 2019 in Fortville but has been limited in raising revenue to fund a full-time department. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter) Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — A change in its tax rates could allow Vernon Township to move toward funding full-time employees at its new fire department, if the state legislature approves.

House Bill 1202, sponsored by Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, would allow for an increase in the maximum permissible property tax levy for fire and emergency medical services in the township.

But many property owners might not see any increase in taxes if it passes.

The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Vernon Township Trustee Florence May said the legislation is one step in a several-year process aimed at bringing full-time, paid fire and emergency medical services to Fortville, McCordsville and the unincorporated parts of northwestern Hancock County.

The bill would change the distribution of tax revenue in Vernon Township but would not raise the tax cap for property owners.

“Very few people will pay additional taxes,” May said.

Michael Reuter, the township’s financial adviser, said the process is called a "property tax levy reset." The change would impact some, but not all, property owners in Vernon Township. The state has a property tax cap that means homeowners cannot pay more than 1% of the valuation of their home in annual property taxes. The cap is 2% for residential rental properties and 3% for businesses.

If a property owner in Vernon Township has not yet reached that cap, they might pay more if the legislation passes. If they have reached the cap, they will not see a tax increase, but more of their tax revenue could go toward funding fire and EMS.

Reuter said it’s difficult to give a percentage or amount by which taxes might go up for those who have not reached the cap, because it is dependent on the type of property and where in Vernon Township it is located.

“That’s the confusing part about Indiana property taxes,” Reuter said.

Before 2019, Vernon Township had two all-volunteer fire departments. Over the past year, the Vernon Township Fire Department has formed, shifting from a volunteer-based model of fire protection to one based on part-time employees. The department has also moved into a new station and began providing its own ambulance service. It recently received the necessary licensing to be reimbursed through both Medicare and Medicaid.

As a fast-growing community, May said, Vernon Township needs to keep up with demand by eventually hiring full-time, paid firefighters. The township, however, cannot currently afford them. After talking to legislators about how to fix the problem, officials concluded they needed changes to tax rates.

May said Vernon Township representatives met with officials from Hancock County government, the towns of Fortville and McCordsville, and the Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation to discuss the potential change, and all were supportive.

Vernon Township has an estimated population of 12,937 people, and in 2019, .01366% of local property tax revenue went toward fire protection. By contrast, Buck Creek Township, with an estimated population of 8,832, has a fire tax rate of .04551%. This enables Buck Creek to employ full-time firefighters.

Sugar Creek Township has an estimated population of 15,668 people and a 2019 fire tax rate of 0.5326%. It also employs full-time firefighters.

“To provide services, we have to improve our tax rate,” May said. “We have a very serious situation here that we have to address very, very quickly.”

If the legislation is passed, May said, Vernon Township will work with the other local government entities to implement changes in the most mutually beneficial way.

“We’re all interested in what’s best for the community,” May said.

If the legislation is passed, Reuter said, Vernon Township would be able to begin collecting taxes at the new rate in 2021. If that happens, he said, it will probably be three or four years before the fire department collects enough revenue to begin employing firefighters full time.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Vernon Township fire timeline” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

January 2019

Vernon Township hires first public safety director

May-August 2019 

Vernon Township Fire Department is formed 

VTFD station opens, all firefighters become paid part-time or pay-per-run employees 

First VTFD operations chief hired 

First baby delivered by VTFD 

September-December 2019 

First VTFD emergency medical services coordinator hired 

Medical billing program for EMS established 

Safe Haven baby box at VTFD dedicated 

January 2020 

Emergency medical services operations begin in-house

Medicare and Medicare licenses approved 

Interim VTFD co-chiefs Kent Helpling and Kiely Culberson appointed