Faced with increasing operating costs and steadily shrinking revenues, the Poland Volunteer Fire Department will try a new approach in its continuing struggle to stay afloat.
Fire department officials and Cass Township Trustee Dorothy Keiser agreed to begin an application process that would designate the area department serves as an Indiana fire protection territory. The territory would be funded by property taxes from the area it serves (Cass, Jackson and Morgan townships). Two of the three townships would have to agree to participate for the application to be accepted by the state. Under the proposed system, revenue would be generated by a 74 cent tax per $1000 of assessed valuation paid by residents in the territory's service area.
Poland firefighter Brad Allen said the prospect of forming a fire protection territory may be the department's only chance for survival. If the department were forced to close, he said, the area the department serves will not receive adequate protection.
"If this department folds, you're waiting 20 or 30 minutes before the first fire truck even gets to your house," he said.
PVFD Director Craig Nees said the department's operating costs have risen sharply in recent years. The department is operating under a $25,000 budget in 2005. $11,000 is derived from property taxes in the townships. The rest comes from private donations and fundraisers, which Nees said are generating less and less revenue. The department was forced to cash in an $8,000 emergency fund earlier this year to help cover its insurance bills.
"Fuel prices have escalated. Insurance costs have gone up dramatically. The costs to replace equipment are going up to the moon," he said.
Revenues the territory generates through property taxes will allow for an estimated budget of $66,638.50, which PVFD officials believe will meet the monetary needs imposed by increasingly stringent federal compliance regulations. Nees said similar measures have been taken to revive financially strapped volunteer fire departments in Brownsburg and Clover-dale.
The department is required to submit an application by March 2006 for the territory to take effect on Jan. 1, 2007. Keiser said she was unwilling to make the choice without the input of those present at the meeting. Members of the department and the community in attendance voted unanimously to move forward with the plan.
Nees said similar measures have been taken to revive financially strapped volunteer fire departments in Brownsburg and Clo-verdale. Poland firefighter Marvin Strauch said that while he has mixed feeling about a potential tax increase, the organization of a fire prevention territory may be the only way to save the department.
"Is it the best scenario? Right now, yes," he said. "It's probably the only scenario."