City council OKs contract with Bloomington firefighters, different longevity pay a highlight

At its meeting on Wednesday, the Bloomington city council approved a four-year collective bargaining agreement with International Association of Fire Fighters Local 586 that runs through 2024.

For a firefighter first class, the agreement calls for a 1-percent raise in 2021 to $54,625 in base pay. A 2-percent raise each year after that, through 2024, brings a firefighter’s base pay to $57,969.

According to a memo from the city’s corporation counsel, Philippa Guthrie, the city will be compensating firefighters by a total of about $2 million more, over the four-year term of the contract.

At the city council’s public safety committee review of the contract on Dec. 9, one concern raised by councilmember Jim Sims was about the diversity of the fire department. Fire chief Jason Moore reported a current department profile of about 5 percent women, and between 3 to 4 percent Black and or people of color.

Moore said that the department is working to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants, in part by supporting the Hoosier Hills Career Center in the Monroe County Community School Corporation and the Ivy Tech fire science program.

The numbers reported by Moore square up with the 2018 numbers in the department’s diversity profile that is available through the city’s B Clear data portal.

Translating the 2018 percentages into numbers, five out of 109 BFD employees in 2018 were women, two were Black, five were veterans and 25 had bachelor’s degrees. The average age was about 44 and they had an average of about 15 years of service. Continue reading “City council OKs contract with Bloomington firefighters, different longevity pay a highlight”

Washington Township to join fire protection district in 2022

At Wednesday’s regular weekly meeting, their last of the year, Monroe County commissioners approved the addition of Washington Township to the Monroe Fire Protection District, starting in 2022.

Earlier this year, commissioners approved the addition of Benton Township to the MFPD, also starting in 2022.

During 2021, Benton and Washington townships will contract with MFPD for fire protection.

In 2019, Van Buren and Bloomington townships were approved for inclusion in the MFPD, starting in 2021.

That means outside the city of Bloomington, MFPD will provide fire protection everywhere in the county except Bean Blossom and Richland townships, in the northwest corner of the county.

By 2022, all the townships where the MFPD provides fire protection will also be members of the district, except for the sparsely populated Salt Creek and Polk townships in the southeastern part of the county. Being a part of the MFPD, instead of just contracting for fire protection means that property owners there will pay a fire levy to the MFPD, not to their home townships.

The additional service area is reflected in the adopted budget for MFPD for 2021, which is just shy of $12 million. That’s better than three times the 2020 adopted budget, which totaled around $3.7 million. Continue reading “Washington Township to join fire protection district in 2022”

Washington Township starts process to join fire district, would make 7 out of 11 member townships in Monroe County

At its meeting last Wednesday (Sept. 30), Monroe County commissioners approved a resolution that sets out the process for Washington Township to join the Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD).

A series of three public meetings about the proposal, to be conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform, have been scheduled. The final public meeting is set for Friday, Oct. 9.

If Washington Township is approved as a member, that would eventually make seven out of 11 Townships that are a part of the MFPD. It would mean nine out of 11 townships get fire protection from MFPD, either as members or through contract.

This year Benton Township was already approved for joining the district in 2022, the same year Washington Township would become a member.

A recently announced three-year $3.8 million federal grant that was awarded to MFPD won’t reduce the property tax rate that member township residents pay. But it will provide immediate funding for 14 additional firefighters and reduce the amount of cash reserves that need to be tapped in 2022, according to MFPD chief Dustin Dillard.

Cash reserves will need to be used, because of the lag in timing for additional contributions of property tax and local income tax by new member townships. There’s a six-month delay before the first infusion of property taxes to the district from new member townships. And the property tax footprint from new township members that goes into the local income tax distribution formula is not factored into the mix until a year later, because the footprint is based on the previous year’s levy. Continue reading “Washington Township starts process to join fire district, would make 7 out of 11 member townships in Monroe County”

Monroe County councilors take unanimous, futile vote to support rural fire departments

Monroe County councilors voted 7–0 Monday night in favor of a resolution supporting the direct allocation of about $353,700 in public safety local income tax (PS-LIT) revenues to four rural fire departments in the county.

The county council took the vote as a member of the tax council, which includes two other governing bodies in the county—the Bloomington city council and the Ellettsville town council.

Monday night’s vote will not have an impact on how the roughly $7.8 million in PS-LIT revenues will be allocated.

That’s because a seven-member PS-LIT committee of the tax council had already voted 5–2 to recommend no allocation of direct funding to the rural fire departments. Also, the statutory deadline for the tax council to make the direct allocation for the funding of rural fire departments is Aug. 31.

Acknowledging the futility of Monday’s vote, president of the county council Eric Spoonmore said, “A lot of people would probably say: Well, why are you all even having this meeting? The city council is already made the decision. It doesn’t make any sense. And it’s pointless.”

Spoonmore’s answer: “Well, to me, there is a point to all of this, and it’s to show my support. And this is our last final opportunity to do that. And I’m very happy to do so.”

On the PS-LIT committee, it was the votes of four Bloomington city councilmembers, plus one from an Ellettsville town councilor, that blocked the recommendation for the same kind of funding for rural fire departments that had been forthcoming in the last couple of years.

The departure from the prevailing  custom was lamented on Monday night by county council president Eric Spoonmore. A big part of what had persuaded him to vote in favor of the PS-LIT increase in 2016 was knowing that the rural fire departments would benefit, Spoonmore said.

Spoonmore called the PS-LIT committee’s decision “disappointing to say the least,” but hoped this year’s allocation would be just a “temporary situation.”

Given his expectations connected to his 2016 support of the tax increase, and the lack of allocation this year, Spoonmore added, “It makes me feel almost a little hoodwinked…”

Continue reading “Monroe County councilors take unanimous, futile vote to support rural fire departments”

Monroe Fire Protection District presents “massive” budget to county council

On Tuesday night, Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD) chief Dustin Dillard presented a 2021 budget to the county council that weighed in at just shy of $12 million.

That’s better than three times the 2020 adopted budget, which totals around $3.7 million. But as Dillard put it, “It’s impossible to compare the current district to the 2021 budget without expressing the scale of this operation.”

The budget for 2021 is way bigger for a couple of reasons. First, it reflects a consolation of three departments—MFPD with the fire departments in Van Buren and Bloomington townships. Van Buren and Bloomington townships were approved last year by the board of county commissioners to join MFPD starting in 2021 after following a process that the commissioners had laid out.  It was the same process that Washington and Benton townships are following this year.

Until they join the MFPD in 2022—assuming their membership is approved by county commissioners later this year—the plan is for Washington and Benton townships to contract with MFPD for fire protection service. So MFPD’s 2021 budget includes the contracts with Washington and Benton townships.

That means MFPD will be adding five townships worth of geography to its coverage area. According to Dillard, in 2021 MFPD will serve nearly 45,000 Monroe County citizens, 19,000 housing units, covering 317 square miles, or 77 percent of Monroe County.

The other reason the budget is bigger is that it reflects more than just a consolidation of departments. The 2021 budget includes 13 additional full-time and 20 additional part-time firefighters. Eight of the 13 full-time positions will be in place on Jan. 1, 2021 and the additional five will be added in the second half of the year, Dillard said.

Dillard summed it up this way: “In addition to merging the three together, we have more on top of that, that really make for a massive budget.” Continue reading “Monroe Fire Protection District presents “massive” budget to county council”

Fire protection in Monroe County to be a fully involved topic in coming weeks

The Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD) will be in the spotlight in the next few weeks and months.

Two townships in Monroe County, Benton and Washington, are looking to join the district starting in 2022, in a process that’s now underway and could be in front of county commissioners before the end of the year.

The nearly $12-million 2021 budget that MFPD chief Dustin Dillard is proposing  will get a close look from county councilors at a Tuesday, Aug. 25 work session.

Also related to MFPD and other rural departments that are looking to join the district, is a scheduled vote by the county council on allocations of public safety local income tax (PS-LIT) money.

In an early August vote by the PS-LIT committee of the tax council, Bloomington and Ellettsville members outnumbered county councilors 5 to 2, and voted to deny about $330,000 in requests from MFPD and other rural departments.

A scheduled Aug. 31 vote of the county council as a tax council member, which likely will support the rural fire department requests, is probably futile. That’s because the county council lacks sufficient votes on the full tax council to determine the outcome. But it could be the county council’s way of going on record in support of the proposed funding of rural department requests. Continue reading “Fire protection in Monroe County to be a fully involved topic in coming weeks”

Factual corrections to statements about fire protection tax allocations sought by Monroe County councilors

Last week, a committee of the Monroe County tax council voted against a recommendation to allocate $353,700 of public safety local income tax (PS-LIT) money to support requests made by four rural fire departments in the county.

The news was not embraced by the Monroe County council at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday. The review of applications for funding had been delegated to the county council, and it was the county council’s recommendations that the PS-LIT committee rejected.

County council president Eric Spoonmore called the tax council’s committee vote “incredibly unfortunate, frustrating, disappointing.” Spoonmore added, “I thought the recommendations that were made were thoughtful…and that the proposals that were put forth by the rural fire departments were very much necessary.”

Councilor Geoff McKim said there were some “materially incorrect” statements made during the committee meeting that need to be corrected on the record, before a final vote is taken.

McKim and Cheryl Munson represented the county council on the committee, casting the only two votes in favor of direct allocations to rural fire departments. Continue reading “Factual corrections to statements about fire protection tax allocations sought by Monroe County councilors”

On split vote, public safety income tax committee recommends: No “off-the-top” allocations this year for rural fire departments

A committee of the Monroe County tax council voted Tuesday morning against a recommendation to allocate $353,700 of public safety income tax money to support requests made by four rural fire departments in the county.

cropped PSLIT meeting Screen Shot 2020-08-04 at 11.04.32 PM
Screenshot of the Aug. 4 meeting of the PS-LIT committee of the local income tax council of Monroe County. It was conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform.

The potential direct allocation of funds to the fire departments would have made up about 4.5 percent of the $7.8 million that the committee was using as a conservative estimate for the total amount it could allocate for 2021.

The distribution of local income tax revenues for 2021 is based on 2019 income tax filings, which have been delayed because of relaxed deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote on the seven-member PS-LIT (public safety local income tax) committee was 2–5 for the direct allocation of the funds to the Monroe County Fire Protection District, and fire departments serving Richland, Bean Blossom, and Benton townships.

The tally flipped to 5–2 for the committee’s vote on its recommended allocations for 2021 public safety income tax revenue.

The dispatch center—which is a public safety answering point (PSAP)—is recommended to receive its requested budget of $2,247,490.

The remaining amount is recommended to be divided, through a property-tax-footprint-based formula, among Bloomington, Monroe County, Ellettsville and Stinesville. In round numbers, that works out to about $2.8 million for Bloomington, $2.5 million for Monroe County government, $165,000 for Ellettsville and $1,100 for Stinesville. Continue reading “On split vote, public safety income tax committee recommends: No “off-the-top” allocations this year for rural fire departments”

County commissioners agree to put Benton Township on path to join Monroe County Fire Protection District

Benton Township residents can mark their calendars for a meeting on March 23 or 24 or 26 at 6:30 p.m. to be held at the Unionville Senior Center next to the township fire station out on SR45.

The topic and agenda of each meeting will be the same—a proposal for the township to join the Monroe County Fire Protection District (MCFPD).

Benton Township will follow a process similar to the one that saw Van Buren and Bloomington Townships join the fire district last year. Based on decisions made last year, by January 2021, the geographic area of the MCFPD will include Van Buren, Indian Creek, Clear Creek, Perry and Bloomington townships.

Benton Township would be added to the fire district starting in 2022. Continue reading “County commissioners agree to put Benton Township on path to join Monroe County Fire Protection District”

Monroe Fire Protection District gets OK from county commissioners to add two townships

 

The unincorporated areas of Bloomington and Van Buren townships will be a part of the Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD) starting Jan. 1, 2021, about 15 months from now. That’s the result of a unanimous vote by Monroe County’s three commissioners at their regular meeting on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s action by the commissioners included establishing a new, five-member composition of the fire district’s board, starting in 2021. County attorney Jeff Cockerill said at Wednesday’s meeting that it will be the commissioners will appoint fire district board members.

The governing body of the district, which will set the rate of the fire levy, will include one member each from Perry, Clear Creek, Indian Creek, Van Buren, and Bloomington townships.

Among the benefits that have been cited for adding the two townships to the district are: protection of the fire tax levy from annexations by the City of Bloomington; an initial lowering the tax rate for residents of Bloomington Township (but it would increase in the second and third years); administration of county fire departments under one umbrella; and the distribution of expenses over a larger tax base. Continue reading “Monroe Fire Protection District gets OK from county commissioners to add two townships”