by Curt Kovener
(Before reading this week’s column, first please read Brian Howey’s Political Report column found above.)
Brian, Brian, Brian, for over four years you and I have jousted words, philosophies and lifestyles. As you know I am a resident of a rural county and have been a township trustee for 17 years. You have lived in a number of more metropolitan areas throughout your journalism career and embrace a one size fits all governmental approach.
Gov. Daniels and you like to tout the recommendations of the Kernan-Shepherd Commission to make government more efficient in which one of the recommendations is to eliminate township government.
But the Kernan-Shepherd commission was a flawed group offering a skewed vision in their recommendations in that not a single member of the commission is or was a part of local or county government, Further, not a single member resides in a rural area. Kernan-Shepherd was comprised of residents of urban, metropolitan areas and big business executives. With all due respect to the former Democratic governor and the state’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, not a single member knows squat about the world in which we live in Jackson and Scott Counties.
In both of these rural counties, there is the I-65 corridor where industrial and economic development is at an advantage. And because of interstate traffic, volunteer fire departments along the corridor are equipped differently than their even more rural fire department neighbors to the east and west.
You wrote about the success of a township fire department merger in Marion County. We have fire department ‘mergers’ out here in the sticks too. It is called mutual aid. Fire departments pre-plan for the potential of fires or other public safety incidents and when they occur at certain locations (schools, factories and sometimes large barns, for instance) neighboring departments are immediately called to bolster manpower and equipment. This kind of rural neighborliness doesn’t cost the property taxpayer any additional money.
That is a direct contrast to what will happen if township government (which, as you know Brian, by and large, funds fire protection in most rural areas) is eliminated.
If township government is eliminated, whether a county-wide fire district is established or if fire protection is left to some executive at the county seat, it will cost more. And cost more on two fronts: increased property taxes and increased insurance premiums.
Several years ago, this township and the town of Crothersville partnered (big city folks like using business-speak, I can too). The town received a state grant to improve the water utility lines, increasing the supply of water available for fire fighting and installed more fire hydrants. The township taxpayers purchased a new Freightliner pumper truck to replace a 40-year-old pumper truck.
The results of that partnership dropped the local Insurance Services Organization (ISO) fire insurance rating which resulted in lower insurance premiums for residents and businesses throughout the town and township.
But there are some townships that do not need nor cannot afford the improvements like this I-65 corridor fire department made. However, with a county-wide fire fighting effort, all departments will have to be equipped the same. Unlike the Uni-Gov Marion County, areas of rural counties have varying needs. Saying that an I-65 corridor department deserves a new truck while residents in the hills can make do with a bucket brigade smacks in the face of fairness and equality. That would be like telling the county seat residents that they get paved roads but the more rural areas only get gravel roads.
Now the first reaction to the increased cost of a centralized form of fire protection could be to merge (i.e. close or eliminate) some fire departments to save tax dollars. But when the ISO learns of the eliminated fire department and the increase in response time, insurance premiums will increase and they will increase more than any tax savings.
Brian, remember, some western Jackson County residents are still steamed that “Their Man Mitch” closed the geographically centered license branch in Brownstown. That forces them to up at a 40 mile drive to the Seymour BMV branch.
Sure, they can re-new their plates on-line. They could if the area was served by high speed internet. But it isn’t. And there are some seniors who do not own a computer nor are computer literate.
And, what the good folks in Seymour and Jackson Township (where half of the assessed wealth and population of the county is located) have yet to figure out, by placing fire protection on a county-wide basis, they will be paying for fire fighting in the outlying areas of the county…and if they are a resident of Seymour City, will also pay for their own municipal fire department.
You correctly pointed out that township trustee-assessors lost their assessing duties July 1. But your rhetorical question to our readers “Did you notice?” is premature.
The township assessors in this county handled personal property assessments (farms, business and the like which have to be completed annually from March 1-May 15). All of our township assessing work was completed and turned in around the July deadline. Now next year when farmers & businesses have to fill out their personal property forms on their own (that’s after they go online to download them when they may not have a computer or high speed internet), ask your question next year, Brian. My nearly 18-years experience tells me you will hear a very different answer.
And I haven’t even touched on the subjects of a county entity providing mowing and maintenance to the scores of township cemeteries (how much is fuel this week?) and centralized assistance to the poor forcing them to travel to a county seat to seek help paying an electric or heat bill or rent. Since county government is open only during normal business hours, someone in need will have to take time off work to seek the county’s financial help when he/she should be on the job earning an income. Or maybe county government could operate nights like our factories (and most sole proprietor businesses). But my experienced observation of the chance of that happening without increased costs is probably pretty slim.
The result of centralized assistance to the needy will be the county spending more money to get power, heat and water restored. All issues easily handled by a phone call from any township trustee’s office currently.
Now Gov. Daniels and the members of Kernan-Shepherd will say by raising these points I am simply trying to save my job.
I submit that I am trying to educate some cocksure urban dwellers both elected and appointed who want to tell we rustic rubes they know better how to conduct our business. I submit that perhaps those of us who live here know better what works for us.
Remember, the Indianapolis Star and the Crothersville Times do not have the same business model.