Fire Protection Territory

The first public hearing for the potential fire protection territory in Oakland City included a variety of equipment and clothing pieces and their prices for community members to look at. Oakland City Fire Chief Chris Duncan said when entering a burning building, he’s wearing approximately $12,000 worth of gear.

OAKLAND CITY — Training, equipment, facilities — they’re basic needs for a fire department and all top the list for Oakland City Fire Chief Chris Duncan and Columbia Township Trustee Shannon Green if the two entities successfully form a fire protection territory.

The two outlined their top three priorities, at the request of a community member, Wednesday during the first of three required public hearings as a part of the potential formation of a fire protection territory.

During the hearing, Susan Cowen with Baker Tilly financial consulting group, outlined the process and presented a financial overview. The first step is to conduct the three public hearings, then the Oakland City Common Council and the Columbia Township Board would vote.

The proposed fire territory would then be presented to the Department of Local Government Finance for approval of an initial maximum property tax levy.

As presented Wednesday evening, the estimated budget for year one is $325,000, with capital outlays totaling $40,359 and a 10% cash reserve of $32,500.

Cowen said the initial 10% cash reserve is only allowed legally in the first year. It will not be a part of the funding estimate after year one.

The total funding requirement was presented at $397,859, with an estimated $43,790 to come from vehicle/aircraft excise tax. This leaves $354,069 to be funded from property tax.

The estimated district tax rate for Oakland City for year one (2021) is $3.5280 per $100 assessed valuation and $2.0817 per $100 AV for Columbia Township. The two entities operate under separate tax rates with the 2020 rate at $3.3124 per $100 AV for Oakland City and $1.8391 per $100 AV for Columbia Township.

Cowen’s report showed the tax rate decreasing slightly in year two and leveling out in year three.

Jerry Basham, an Oakland City resident and business owner, asked about the possibility of the DLGF rejecting the territory application.

Cowen said a rejection from the DLGF would usually come due to procedural error, and is not usually related to the actual finances. She said it can come from missing paperwork or a failure to hold the necessary public hearings.

Petersburg Fire Chief Ross Elmore attended the meeting Wednesday and spoke from his experience with the formation of a fire territory in 2010 that included Petersburg and Washington Township.

He said the two entities found it benefited both taxing districts, and they didn’t experience much opposition to the idea. Elmore said he feels they have made progress with the department’s ISO rating, which he focused on when talking about forming the territory.

The impact forming a territory can have on the department’s ability to afford equipment and training can in turn impact the department’s ISO rating and community member’s insurance rates.

Elmore said it takes the money to get the equipment to help the ISO rating.

Around the room of the fire station were a variety of items the department needs and uses, with prices attached.

Green said when she became trustee in Columbia Township she was amazed at the cost of the equipment and she encouraged all the residents at the hearing to look before they left that evening.

“It’s not just the cost of the equipment,” she said, “it’s the cost of their life.”

Duncan said they totaled it up, and when he enters a burning building, he is wearing about $12,000 worth of gear.

Duncan said he really believes people are going to see change in the East Gibson area, and he sees the reasons behind the implementation of a fire territory. He told the community in attendance he wants it to happen so they can get better.

“I want to thrive,” he said. “I want to get better.”

The next two public hearings are at 6 p.m. March 10 and March 24 at the fire station in Oakland City. The financial analysis will be presented again, and questions and comments will be taken.

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