Since the Washington Township trustee (WTT) made her decision not to sign the agreement between the Washington Township Fire Department (WTFD) and Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD), we, the Democratic members of the board, felt that because the WT board held a public meeting on this merger that we owe the township an explanation of the consequences of her action.
The board’s agreement for merger would not have taken place without a vote of the WTFD membership, which was overwhelmingly (94 percent) in favor of the merger. After the vote, the WTFD formally requested that the WTB and trustee move forward with the consolidation with IFD. The entire WT board held a public hearing Sept. 24, 2005, involving the IFD chief, the city controller, the mayor and citizens of Washington Township. All issues were discussed, questions were asked and all information about the merger was shared. The trustee opted not to attend.
The members of the WTFD and IFD worked on joint committees to perform due diligence checklists on personnel, benefits, retirement, training, equipment, etc. The resulting conclusion of those committees was full support of a consolidation of IFD and WTFD. The firefighters felt that both departments would be strengthened to better serve all residents of Washington Township, with particular emphasis on improved safety for firefighters of both departments.
The consequences of the trustee’s refusal to sign off on the merger could be 1) a rise in property taxes, 2) new debt for the township, which is currently debt free, 3) borrowing against future tax revenue to fund the 2006 budget. The WT trustee presented the board with a 2006 budget based on the understanding that WTFD would merge with IFD. That budget was passed by the board, 7-0. While writing and approving the 2006 budget the trustee and all board members were aware that without merger, these consequences and obstacles to funding the 2006 budget would occur.
The trustee and the board fully discussed the fact that the merger agreement would result in savings that would have deferred a rise in property tax for three years, and would have allowed the WTFD to have parity with IFD in pay, benefits, hours per week, etc. The City of Indianapolis had committed to allowing all WT surpluses and tax revenues to remain in WT so that the township would stay fully funded. The savings would enable a new fire station to be built at 86th and Ditch (Fire Station 224), and the city was committed to this as well.
The city had negotiated with the WTT about a portion of COIT revenues to remain in WT. They came to agreement. After months of work by the board, the firefighters and the city, and all were in agreement, the trustee decided on Monday, Nov. 14 that she would not sign the merger agreement — the day the IPD/Sherrif Department merger was voted down by the ICCC. No one believes that this is a coincidence.
We want to let all taxpayers of Washington Township know that we, the Democratic majority of the WT board, have no intention of raising taxes, creating debt or borrowing money to fund the 2006 budget. It has never been our policy to follow any one of these practices, and won’t now because of the trustee’s refusal to sign the agreement. The board will meet on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005, at the WT administration building, and will request that the trustee revise the WT 2006 budget to live within the 2006 revenues. Unfortunately, due to the trustee’s actions, services will suffer.
Ed O’Rea, president, WT board Alice Jenkins Ray Baker Joe Simpson