Council divided over fire department contract

HOPE — A close vote is anticipated when the Hope Town Council considers a 9.2-percent increase in the amount it pays annually to the volunteer fire department.

The town’s emergency services committee voted last week to recommend a 2016 contract that will provide slightly more than $76,000 to the Hope Volunteer Fire Department.

That’s $7,000 more than the last approved contract between the town and the department.

The vote is expected to be conducted Feb. 15 when the council meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Hope Town Hall.

Two council members who serve on the emergency services committee — Ohmer Miller and Jerry Bragg — both voted in favor of the increase.

In fact, Miller made the motion during the committee meeting to increase the contract amount after firefighters provided what he said is an honest and detailed account of their current needs, he said.

Those needs largely center on replacing worn-out firefighting equipment, obtaining new life-saving supplies and providing training to its members, fire chief Randy Wood said.

Replacing faulty gear is not a option, but a matter of life and death for all fire departments, according to Roger Johnson, a former state fire marshal who has been associated with Bartholomew County firefighters for 50 years.

When equipment malfunctions, firefighters can’t do their jobs effectively and safely, which places them and others in danger, Johnson said.

In addition, fire chief Randy Wood reminded the council last month that his department did not use tens of thousands of dollars that had been allotted for qualifying expenses last year.

But council president Clyde Compton said there also are valid reasons why he anticipates both he and councilman Greg Sims will vote against the recommendation.

During the council’s Jan. 18 meeting, Wood said his department was seeking no increases from the $69,000 approved in the last contract, which was approved in 2014.

In response, both Sims and Compton questioned why the department needs the same amount after discontinuing its ambulance service last summer.

Compton also pointed out the Hawcreek Township trustee is keeping its current funding level at $50,000, although up to 80 percent of the fire runs are outside the Hope town limits.

Under the proposed contract, Hope taxpayers will be paying 60 percent of the department’s cost while the town only accounts for no more than 30 percent of the runs.

“We shouldn’t have to pay any more than the township,” Compton said. “This is not a good decision for the taxpayers.”

In addition, the town of Hope provides all the water used to fill the department’s tankers at no charge to the firefighters, the council president said.

If Compton is correct in his predictions, the swing vote among the five-member council will be council vice president Jonathan Titus.

“I still have some concerns, but I believe (the firefighters) are making a good faith effort to address those,” Titus said.

Titus also said he believes approval of a contract this month “is in the best interests of the citizens as well as the fire department.”

What's next?

The Hope Town Council will consider a recommendation from the emergency services committee to approve a 2016 contract that will provide slightly more than $76,000 to the Hope Volunteer Fire Department. The vote is expected to be held Feb. 15 when the council meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Hope Town Hall.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.