The Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department, Town of Crothersville and Vernon Township have begun discussions on forming a Fire Protection District for this area.
Vernon Township is the only township in Jackson County which pays for fire protection through the township trustee.
Many years ago the town and township split the costs of fire protection but because of limited levy and other demands on the town’s general fund budget, the municipality found it impossible to keep up with fire department expenses.
In 2003, the town turned over its funding responsibility for fire protection to the township and all property owners began paying a fire operating and cumulative fire rate on their property taxes.
Currently those rates total under 4¢ per $100 of assessed valuation or about $12.35 per year on a owner occupied home assessed at $100,000.
The township fire operating rate generates about $33,000 a year, according to Frank Cummings of Government Finance Consultants.
But Crothersville-Vernon Township Fire Chief Ben Spencer said that funding isn’t keeping up with the increased costs facing the fire department.
In addition to making fire runs, the local department is dispatched on medical runs to assist the Jackson County EMS.
“We make a large number of runs on the interstate,” Spencer said.
Increasing the tax rate for fire protection by the township is not a possibility. According to newly elected Township Trustee Scott Kovener, the township is raising the maximum amount the Department of Local Government Finance will allow.
The alternative to increase funding for the fire department is to follow what other township funded fire departments did six years ago: form a fire protection district.
“We considered forming a district when everyone else did but opted to take a wait and see position to learn how fire districts worked in other areas,” said Spencer.
He said, ultimately, a fire protection district will mean that everyone will pay a higher property tax.
Cummings provided a rate impact study for a proposed fire district. For an owner-occupied home with a mortgage and homestead exemption assessed at $100,000, with a 4¢ fire district rate, would mean that property would pay $13.10 a year for fire protection. If the rate was 6¢ the homeowner would pay $19.65 annually and if the rate was 8¢ it would cost the homeowner $26.20 a year, according to GFS.
Non-owner occupied homes, farms and businesses would pay more because those properties are not eligible for mortgage and homestead exemptions.
For those entities, each $100,000 of AV would $40, $60 or $80 annually, depending on which rate was sought and approved.
Cummings said that a 4¢ rate would raise a little over $65,000 for the fire department; a 6¢ rate would mean about $97,000 and an 8¢ rate would generate an annual income of $130,000 for fire protection.
Currently, fire protection district rates in Jackson County range from a low of about 3¢ in Driftwood Township to a high of 15¢ in Pershing Township.
Brownstown Township has the highest operating budget of $141,050 annually followed by Jackson-Washington’s budget of $115,500, according to Cummings. Neighboring Grassy Fork Township has the lowest budget raising just $31,050 annually.
A fire district is administered by a five member board appointed by the Jackson County Commissioners. That board would be responsible for overseeing and budgeting the district.
Spencer said that the fire department is in no hurry and its funding through the township is not in jeopardy.
“This is something that we want to begin discussing now for some action in the future to secure the department’s finances down the road,” he said.