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CANNELTON – Cannelton’s fire chief doesn’t want to stop providing fire protection in the Tobin Township area, but lack of funding may force him to.
“We are an emergency-response unit,” John Young III said during a regular city council meeting Monday. “If we get called up there, it’s just going to kill me to sit in the firehouse and say we’re not going to go. That’s going to be hard to do.”
He stressed that the Cannelton Volunteer Fire Department will continue to respond to calls in its part of Tobin Township until he’s told not to by city officials. The township is also served by Rome and Anderson Township fire departments. Young presented maps to show the council Cannelton’s response area.
“I don’t know how we got that coverage area with no funding,” he said. “That’s where the majority of our responses are.”
If his department stops providing coverage there, he said, “there will be a lot of people in this room for your next meeting.”
Local fire departments help one another through mutual-aid agreements. When Tell City firefighters responded to a fire at Waupaca, for example, Cannelton’s department was put on standby in case it was needed in Tell City. That cooperation will continue and was not the issue Monday, Young said.
Because of the distance and narrow roads between Cannelton and areas of Tobin Township, Mayor Mary Snyder asked how long it takes the volunteer firefighters to respond to that area. Young said his department has had responses in the 14-minute range.
Some departments charge annual fees to the property owners they protect, and that option was suggested. Councilwoman Kim Reed asked about households where, perhaps, four or five children live and only one parent works. Young replied that instead of an annual fee, families who experience fires could be charged the actual costs of responses, which would be much higher.
Some of the department’s gear “is coming to the end of its life” Young told the council, and replacing it will cost approximately $35,000. A large purchase made about 10 years ago was grant-funded, and Young said he and the mayor will seek another grant. If that effort is not successful, Cannelton taxpayers will bear the brunt of the expense and Tobin Township residents get the equipment’s benefit for free, he noted, adding the city also bears costs of insurance and workmen’s compensation.
“If we quit running up there,” he added, “their insurance rates would double or triple.”
Young said fire chiefs have talked about the discrepancy for years.
“It’s a touchy subject,” he said.
Snyder said during a board of public works and safety meeting earlier Monday she talked to Tobin Township Trustee Bev Biever, who told her the Rome Volunteer Fire Department gets township funds for fire protection. She said Wednesday she’s continuing to talk to officials from both Cannelton and Rome.
“I know Cannelton has always served the township,” she said. The $3,500 annual contract with Rome gives them responsibility for the entire township, she explained, but “Rome is struggling” and many of its firefighters work out of the area.
Biever said she recently gave Cannelton $400 for fire protection, she had been negotiating with both departments and would continue those efforts.
“I’m trying to provide the best fire coverage for the township,” she said.
“We get absolutely no money from that area,” Snyder said. “We just have enough revenue to (provide coverage for) our own city. They are actually under Rome … that’s who their contract is with. It just seems that no one shows up, then they call Cannelton.”
“We get the initial call 90 percent of the time,” Young corrected her.
“Are we closer than what the Rome fire department is?” asked Fulkerson, also a member of the public-works board.
“Certain parts of Tobin Township, we are,” Young replied. “We cover part of Troy Township and we get compensated by the county for it. And of course, fire protection in the city is paid by your property taxes.”
“Have you talked to Rome about possibly reimbursing us?” Fulkerson asked.
“That’s not our place to do that,” Snyder answered, explaining it’s something that should be negotiated with the township trustee.
The board, which included only Fulkerson and Snyder because member and Councilman Melvin Mc-Brayer was absent, voted to send the issue to the council.
In introducing the matter there, Snyder noted that due to declining budgets, caused in part by caps placed on property taxes by the state legislature, “I really don’t see how we can continue to do runs to Tobinsport.”
Insurance ratings in the township are based on the presence of Cannelton’s fire department, Young said.
In response to a question from Reed, Young said fundraisers the department conducts are not intended to equip its members. Among other uses, money generated from them is used to buy flowers for funerals.
“Taxpayers are supposed to pay to keep the fire department up,” he said. He owns property in the township and has friends and family members living there, Young said. “It’s just going to kill me if we don’t have fire coverage up there.”
Snyder said she was to attend a meeting of the county’s emergency management agency next week, and she’ll bring the issue up there. The council tabled it.