Columbus Township considering cuts to firefighters

Columbus Township and Bartholomew County rural residents would see the loss or reduction of many of the community’s paid firefighters under plans being discussed by the township’s financial body.

Columbus Township Advisory Board members Jimmy Green and Michael Shireman are the only current board members, and they say their priority is cutting taxes. Green explains:

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Although the board members have suggested eliminating the township’s paid firefighters altogether, Green said he also would be in favor of making them part-time, which would save the township on benefits and retirement. Green said other townships, including Harrison Township on the west side of Columbus, provide paid staff more cheaply by using part-time firefighters.

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Township Trustee Ben Jackson and the firefighters are against the proposal. Jackson said the firefighting tax rate will already fall by a third in the next year because, among other reductions, a loan will finally be paid off.  Jackson explains the cuts that have already been proposed:

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However, Green estimated that cutting most of the staff to part-time could save taxpayers 50 percent of their firefighting costs.

Columbus Township firefighters, formerly known as the East Columbus Volunteer Fire Department,  serve the donut of properties that are in the township but outside of the city of Columbus. But Jackson says the Columbus Township Department’s paid staff are frequently providing aid to residents and businesses outside of the township itself.

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Fire Chief Dave Thompson said it is impossible for many purely volunteer firefighters to respond during the day because of work commitments.

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Thompson said the paid staff came about after 2008 and was started because so few volunteer firefighters can respond during the day. The township recently received an improved insurance rating due to the presence of paid firefighters and the quicker response times that brings.

Thompson said the paid firefighters work during the regular Monday-Friday work-week and also provide maintenance and other services that would still have to be paid for, if there were no paid firefighters.

The advisory board held a budget discussion meeting on Monday night that became heated over the issue. The final decision won’t be made until the township’s actual public budget hearings in September. Jackson said he plans to make the case to the businesses and homeowners in the township that public safety is improved by having a paid staff.

The third advisory board member, Greg Simo, resigned on Monday because he is moving out of the township.