Full-time firefighters will remain a significant part of the second-largest fire department in Bartholomew County.
In a compromise, the Columbus Township advisory board voted 2-1 Tuesday to keep four of their six full-time firefighters at their current status.
During the past few months, two of the three board members — Jimmy Green and Mike Shireman — had advocated eliminating full-time wages plus medical and other benefits for six firefighters, moving them to part-time status.
But instead, two firefighters will be reduced to part-time next year. That’s one more than what was proposed by Columbus Township Trustee Ben Jackson.
No final decisions on individual firefighters were announced.
As part of the compromise, firefighters will not receive raises for next year, although 2 percent raises are planned for Jackson and his office staff.
While board member Dustin Renner voted to accept Jackson’s original proposal as presented, both Green and Shireman supported the compromise.
Tuesday’s meeting drew nearly 60 people to the Family Arts building of the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, but the board did not allow public comments during the meeting.
During a Sept. 6 budget hearing, however, 18 of 20 people who spoke opposed reducing the full-time firefighting staff. Opponents claimed such a change would result in excessive personnel turnover, reduced response times, and a greater threat to public safety.
“The less full-time firefighters we have, the longer the response time will be,” Jackson said Tuesday.
Last spring, it was announced that Columbus Township Fire & Rescue was ranked among the top 12 percent of fire departments in Indiana in terms of overall quality and performance, according to an Insurance Services Office audit.
As a result, a number of those at the Sept. 6 meeting indicated they had recently seen their residential and business property insurance rates drop.
The reduction of two full-time firefighters to part-time status will make it difficult to maintain that ISO rating, however, Columbus Township Fire Chief Dave Thompson said.
Jackson was already proposing a $591,808 firefighting fund next year — a $56,992 reduction from the $648,800 had been budgeted for 2016. With the additional cuts approved, the fund will be reduced by another $46,710.
“I’m all about taxes,” Shireman said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re still two-and-a-half times higher than German Township with our tax rate — and almost three times higher than Wayne.”
But with 3,200 homes and more than 70 commercial businesses, Thompson said Columbus Township is unique.
“We’re spread out to every part of the county,” the fire chief said. “We have two stations and twice the apparatus to take care and maintain.”
In the event of a large-scale emergency, Columbus Township Fire and Rescue could be required to protect the entire city of Columbus, former Columbus Fire Chief Dave Allmon said earlier this month.
That’s what happened on July 25, 2013, when all city emergency personnel were tied up after a plane crashed into the back of a house on Broadmoor Lane.