Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Star Reports Township Officials Burn Over Fire Merger Bill

From the Indianapolis Star:

Township officials on the Westside are fuming over a legislative proposal that would let Indianapolis acquire their fire departments without their consent.

“This is a hostile move, a blatant grab for power,” said Andy Harris, Wayne Township’s trustee.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer R-Beech Grove, would require only the approval of the Indianapolis City-County Council and the mayor to merge the fire departments of Decatur, Pike and Wayne townships into the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Five other township departments have merged with IFD since 2007. but they joined voluntarily — and local officials voted for it. Decatur, Pike and Wayne have resisted because they insist their services are as good or better than IFD .

“There has been no movement in our township by residents or elected officials to consolidate,” said Lula Patton, the Pike Township trustee. “We are on budget and deliver a high quality of service. The way this bill is written is unfair. None of us has a say in this.”

The Indiana House recently approved House Bill 1229 by a 74-20 vote, and it has been assigned to the Senate Local Government Committee. Chairman Sen. Randall Head R-Logansport, said he is undecided about whether to schedule a hearing. If he does, it would be held in about two weeks.

“I’ve been talking to people on both sides of the issue and have a lot to sort out,” he said.

A law on the books requires consent of the township trustee and board for any merger. But Sen. Jim Merritt R-Indianapolis, a sponsor of HB 1229, said he has grown impatient waiting for the townships to merge, which he sees as inevitable.

“I’ve been working on this process for a long time, and nothing has worked for these three townships,” he said. “I think it is time we let the mayor and council to make a local decision for something that will save taxpayers money.”

Kirchhofer said the time to bring the other townships in for consolidation is long overdue. She said mergers have cut costs and improved efficiency.

“We are the only incorporated city in Indiana that still has township fire departments.”