Chesterton Tribune

Porter eyes study of township fire district

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Officials in Porter say it’s too early to give either a thumbs up or thumbs down on Chesterton’s proposal to create a fire territory to serve the tri-towns and Westchester Township.

Porter Town Council president Michele Bollinger said Tuesday, “I think we need to look at the option. It’s obviously being done around the state. We need to see if we can provide better service and be fiscally more responsible.”

Bollinger said Porter’s next step is commissioning a financial feasibility study. “We may look at that and say no way,” she added.

Porter councilman Jon Granat said a fire territory “on the surface looks great, but if it doesn’t save us money it’s pointless. I have a lot more questions, and I need to talk to someone who has (a fire territory).”

His concern was if the territory budget has a shortfall, Porter could have to help make up the money using cash from its general fund, which would short police, street and other departments.

According to Porter councilman Dave Babcock, “I have no opinion on a fire territory until I get more information. Nobody right now is prepared to answer our questions. You’ve got to know the advantages and what it would cost.”

Burns Harbor fire chief Bill Arney said while the idea of consolidation is understandable, “There’s a lot of benefits you could see but there’s also negatives on the community.”

The fire territory becomes a taxing entity, said Arney, and he doesn’t prefer to impose another user fee that could increase over time.

Yes, paying for the Fire Department with a territory assessment rather than the town general fund would free up cash, he said, but “our residents are not struggling with the fire service they have now.”

Another concern is that a fire-territory board would make decisions regarding manpower, facilities and equipment, said Arney, and its members could decide to eliminate the Burns Harbor fire station, which is manned around-the-clock with volunteer firefighters who operate a basic-life-support transport ambulance service.

Arney also said once a community joins a fire territory, it’s hard to get out with your equipment so eventually a town’s basically locked in.

“I’m personally not for it for the Town of Burns Harbor.”

 

 

Posted 9/29/2010