By Cindy Larson
Efforts by the towns of Leo-Cedarville and Grabill, and Springfield and Cedar Creek townships to create a fire territory reached an impasse at a contentious meeting July 22 in Grabill.
John Eastes, Leo-Cedarville Town Council president, came to the meeting with an interlocal agreement he hoped would be palatable to representatives of the other three entities.
It was not.
All four entities believe creating a fire territory would be beneficial to all their constituents. Currently they contract with Northeast Allen County Fire and EMS, a nonprofit comprised of volunteer, part-time and full-time employees. But in recent years the department has struggled to recruit volunteers. Creating a fire territory would provide better fire protection, fire prevention and emergency medical services for residents in those towns and townships.
The biggest issue seems to be who will be in control. Several at the meeting said they don’t want it to be Leo-Cedarville.
The proposed interlocal agreement calls for a municipally owned department with a provider unit that would control the money. All equipment and assets also would have to be turned over to the provider unit.
Northeast Allen County Fire and EMS Chief Tim George said, “I don’t understand why (all the equipment) needs to be signed over.”
Grabill Town Council President Wilmer Delagrange said, “My council said they don’t want Leo to be the provider unit.
“I don’t think we’re going to go anywhere on this.”
But Eastes countered, “I am not asking to be the providing unit. I want this service to be sustainable and have longevity.”
Those opposing the interlocal agreement are primarily concerned about it being municipally owned and about giving up their equipment. Steve Herman, Cedar Creek Township trustee, said the fire department has never been municipally owned, and he prefers it that way. “I don’t want politics in the Fire Department,” he said.
An Executive Board comprised of elected officials would oversee the territory.
Others accused Eastes of holding up the process. He presented an interlocal agreement last year, and then took it back and had the Leo town manager/town attorney draft a new one. “Leo’s literally drug this on and on,” George said.
“I’m telling you, Leo-Cedarville is not holding things up,” Eastes said.
As criticism of Eastes and Leo-Cedarville mounted, Eastes said, “I’m going to go to the topic of trust. We’re not enemies, we’re just not seeing things together.”
However David Crowder, a resident of Leo-Cedarville, countered that with “No one has enough trust in you to allow you to be the providing unit.”
The tenor of the meeting seemed to change when Northeast Allen EMS Chief Scott Yoder stepped up and said, “There shouldn’t be sides in here. We should be on our community’s side.”
Leo-Cedarville Town Councilman Ray Pulver, who has advocated for an even bigger fire territory that would encompass most of eastern Allen County, said, “I don’t want to hold up this process any more. … I think Leo just needs to step back and let you guys do what you want to do.”
“I think we’re at an impasse,” Eastes said. He wished the others good luck, and he and Pulver left the meeting. Those representing the remaining three entities began discussing what steps they would take next.
The day after the meeting Eastes was pragmatic. “There’s no point in taking things personally,” he said. “It just rolls off my shoulders.”
He said Leo-Cedarville will continue to contract with Northeast Allen County Fire & EMS “to provide the same level of protection.”
And he hasn’t ruled out joining the fire territory at some point after it’s up and running.
“This is part of the process — what you have to go through to get it right,” he said.