Northeast fire territory once again stalled

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By Louis Wyatt
lwyatt@kpcmedia.com

GRABILL — Representatives from the towns of Leo-Cedarville and Grabill, and Cedar Creek and Springfield townships, continued to clash over terms outlined in an inter-local agreement for the creation of a fire territory June 24.

Members of Leo and Grabill’s town councils, as well as Cedar Creek Township Trustee Steve Herman and Springfield Township board member Brian Amstutz, continued negotiations with members of Northeast Allen County Fire and EMS at the Fudergong in Grabill.

The four entities have met regularly since May after failing to come to an agreement years ago as to how best to address staffing needs at their fire stations. With the creation of a fire territory, they hope to add more paid staff and improve response times and fire and EMS capabilities.

During last week’s meeting, Leo Town Council President John Eastes presented a resolution passed by 3-2 vote at a previous council meeting, which states that Leo would only join the territory if the proposed inter-local agreement is redrafted to include five terms: The territory must be municipally owned and operated, the territory’s executive board must only be comprised of elected officials, fire and EMS real and personal property currently titled to each of the government entities must be transferred to the fire territory, Northeast Fire and EMS’s real and personal property must be transferred to the fire territory, and a business plan based on identified best practices must be developed and included in the inter-local agreement.

Eastes and council members Chris Adams and Ray Pulver voted in approval of the resolution during the council’s June 18 meeting, while members Greg Peck and Scott Connally voted against.

The only term in the resolution that all four entities came to an agreement on during last week’s meeting in Grabill was restricting board appointments to elected officials. Representatives of each of the entities agreed that each respective governing body should select an appointment to the board. However, they did not come to an agreement on term limits.

The question of making the territory municipally owned was not as cut and dried. Despite arguments from Eastes and Pulver in favor of the motion, Herman, Amstutz and Grabill Town Council President Wilmer Delagrange saw it as unnecessary.

“I don’t think the fire department needs to become municipally owned at this time, just to make things simple so we can get this going,” Herman said. “… They pay their bills, they pay for their own audits, so this would make it non-complicated.”

On the other side of the table, Pulver said his reason to push for a municipally owned and operated fire territory was to ensure oversight of the budget — which would be paid for by tax dollars.

“That’s not good enough for the average taxpayer,” Pulver said.

The four entities also failed to come to an agreement on the term requiring all property be turned over to the fire territory. Herman said that his township board voted against the measure, citing a concern over whether or not entities would be able to reclaim their equipment should they opt to leave the territory at some point — a statement that did not sit well with Pulver and Eastes.

“As a representative from Leo-Cedarville, this troubles me because all we’re talking about is backing out,” Pulver said. “… This community can do great things, and if the talent in this room can’t put this thing together and pull this off as a long-term relationship that will be ongoing long after we are all gone, we have a problem.”

Pulver again reiterated that Leo’s stance is that all five terms outlined in their resolution need to be taken care of before the formation of the fire territory — rather than down the road. However, the other entities agreed to adjourn the meeting before discussing the final two points.

“Let’s come together with clear heads and make this thing work,” Delagrange said. “We’ve not gained anything tonight, but we know how everybody feels now and we know what we need to move ahead.”

In closing, representatives from Northeast Fire and EMS presented staffing suggestions once the territory is formed. Fire Chief Tim George suggested budgeting for six full-time paramedics, nine part-time EMTs, three full-time firefighter/EMTs and six part-time firefighters.

The four entities will meet again 7 p.m. July 22 at the Grabill park.