From: Dustin Renner
I was given the honor last month of being elected, via caucus, to serve on the Columbus Township Advisory Board. The past few weeks I have carefully deliberated the best approach to bring a solution to Columbus Township Fire Department. I applaud the Columbus Township Trustee, Ben Jackson, for proposing a budget that has offered substantial spending cuts. I also applaud the firefighters of Columbus Township who keep the township and the rest of the community safe. I was able to spend some time with them on a recent afternoon and enjoyed getting to know them as well as having the opportunity to better understand the service that they provide to our community. After Tuesday evening’s meeting it is abundantly clear that the residents of Columbus Township appreciate the service that the fire department provides as well.
I have combed through the proposed township budget as well as budgets of prior years and could only come up with minuscule cuts beyond what have already been proposed. During this time, I had wrapped my mind around two possible solutions. One was to place the issue on the ballot and allow the voters of Columbus Township to have the opportunity to make this important decision for themselves. I inquired with the Indiana Election Division and was unfortunately told that state law prevented this type of public question from appearing on the ballot.
The other possible solution that I think would be feasible is consolidation with the city fire department. Much larger communities such as Indianapolis and Muncie have consolidated their township and city fire departments. In Indianapolis, the Legislative Services Agency found that consolidation could provide costs savings for taxpayers. The agency also found that operating costs increased slower for the merged departments at 9.8 percent vs. 18.9 percent for the departments that have not merged. The merged departments also cut payroll by 2.7 percent. The city of Muncie has absorbed the fire department of Center Township. The township pays the city $400,000 for fire protection.
I am prepared to support the proposed budget as it stands now, but would like to see city and township officials discuss a potential consolidation deal for the future. The current township fire budget sits at about $650,000. I believe that the city could provide the township with the same level of fire protection for less than that.
There will be a vote on the budget Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds. I ask residents of Columbus Township to come out and make your voices heard so that I and the two other board members have a better understanding of where you, the taxpayer, stand on having a paid, full-time staff at the township fire department.