Officials trade barbs over fire protection
The unincorporated areas of Center Township officially will be covered by volunteer fire departments in 2018. Last week Center Township finalized contracts with both the Greentown and Galveston volunteer fire departments to cover Darrough Chapel and Tall Oaks for one year each. Board members Napolean Leal and Linda Koontz voted in favor of the contracts, while board member Steve Gieselman voted against the measure.
The Greentown Volunteer Fire Department will cover the unincorporated Darrough Chapel at a cost of £57,000, while Galveston Volunteer Fire Department will provide protection to Tall Oaks for £25,000. The conclusion to the contentious debate of which agency would cover the unincorporated areas, previously under the protection of Kokomo Fire Department, was met with derision by some of the areas’ residents. “I feel that you have put money above the loss of life.
I really feel that,” said Richard Rossini, a Darrough Chapel resident. “I think a lot of people in this room feel that way because response times are going to go up. Somebody is going to die because of this. I feel like you people have put money above everything else, and that’s wrong.”
Officials disagree The long-standing tradition of KFD protection for the unincorporated areas ended with local officials trading barbs. Koontz took aim at Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, who previously estimated that providing fire protection to the unincorporated areas would cost the township £1.4 million.
The mayor’s calculation denoted the unincorporated areas amounted to 10 percent of the department’s total coverage area, so he put the coverage cost at 10 percent of the department’s £14.38 million budget. The township’s last contract with the city entailed an annual cost of about £70,000, while the township also provided the city with about £350,000 worth the fire equipment. “How is a township government supposed to pay £1.4 million for fire services?
We can’t,” said Koontz. “It’s a non-starter, and [Goodnight] has chosen to make a lot of statements in the paper. Some of them are fair, and some of them are completely wrong in my estimation … You can’t negotiate with thin air.
You can’t negotiate when the other person is dead set on an amount that is so far out of the realm that it cannot even be considered. I totally understand how you’re feeling. I do.
Our minds were not made up, and we kept hoping there would be some sort of reasonable response, and we didn’t get it.” Kokomo Board of Public Works President Randy McKay, who attended the meeting, fired back at Koontz. McKay partook in negotiating the previous five-year fire contract held between the city and township.
That contract expired in October, but Center Township Trustee Rev. Robert Lee extended it after the township agreed to forego being paid for the £350,000 in fire equipment the city was obligated to pay by the previous contract. Instead, facing a situation where the unincorporated areas would not be covered by a fire department, Lee moved to relinquish the equipment without payment to extend the contract to the end of the year.
“We knew at that time, because of property tax caps that were imposed at the state, something had to change,” said McKay. “We couldn’t afford to continue the service of just giving away and doing something. We had a five-year window to say, ‘Trustee’s office, find a solution. You collect taxes for fire services already through the trustee’s office, find a solution.’ We did it in good faith that every intention that potentially Darrough Chapel would choose to annex into the city, and if they did they would be covered by us.
If they did not we had to purchase the equipment fair market value. That was the agreement. “I sat here.
You did not. That was the agreement. But this office knew five years, not 15 months ago, five years ago that there was a real serious issue because the rules changed at the state about how we received revenue.
We had to address those rules. Evidently the trustee’s office chose to ignore them and then at the last second say, ‘Well, he won’t negotiate. Not true at all.
I’ve known that man for over 25 years. If Rev. Lee had sat down and talked with him, I think they may have been able to work something out.”
The only formal offer made by the township during the negotiations came after the contract extension when Lee sent a letter to Goodnight, offering £100,000 for fire protection. The city denied that offer, with the mayor writing back that he could not “spend City taxpayer’s money to provide free, or nearly free, municipal services to areas outside of the City boundaries.” Residents attending the meeting took issue with what they perceived to be a lack of effort to negotiate with the city on Lee’s part.
When asked by a resident why he did not make further attempts to negotiate, Lee said, “I chose to conclude the negotiations at the point we are at now.” That did not sit well with Darrough Chapel resident Vicki Douglas, who successfully has petitioned the Kenwood portion of Darrough Chapel for voluntary annexation into the city as a result of the fire protection situation. “We do not feel safe in our community, a few streets surrounded on all four sides by city of Kokomo Fire Department,” said Douglas. “As we’ve looked at it, at times we’ve felt it could be incompetence on your parts.
You’ve had 15 months. It’s taken you 15 months to finalize a contract that you knew about a year ago. Rev.
Lee shared with us in our meeting he knew a year ago it needed to be negotiated …
I know I speak for my close neighbors and new neighbors that we’ve met in this process, that we in our heart of hearts, we don’t believe you negotiated in good faith for us.”