Time running out for fire territory
By kitty conley firstname.lastname@example.org February 12, 2013 11:46AM
Allen Katz is one of two candidates pursuing the position of Lake County Chairman after Kim Krull steps down. | Photo Provided~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 15, 2013 2:12AM
WINFIELD — Township Trustee Rollie Brauer Jr. is hoping that this year the Town of Winfield elected town council members will vote on at least setting a hearing for the formation of a new fire territory.
Officials have been pushing it around for a few years and the equipment owned by Lakes of the Four Seasons Volunteer Fire Force, just keeps getting older and older.
Currently the LOFS Fire Force has a 1993 fire engine/tanker that holds 1,000 gallons of water. It is scheduled to be replaced this year and will cost at least $400,000.
The department also has a 1991 ladder truck that has its own 500-gallon tank that will need to be replaced in 2015 and will cost in today’s dollars about $ 750,000.
The 1998 medic vehicle has an estimated end of life in 2014, but is not on the list to be replaced until 2016 at about $180,000. That comes to just over $1.3 million for equipment.
Currently in the cumulative fire fund is $102,777 from the town, with a projected 2013 income for just $43,120 more. That leaves an equipment short fall of over $1.2 million.
The LOFS Fire Force responds to fire, rescue, and emergency medical calls in the Town of Winfield, Winfield Township and the West Porter Fire Protection District. Last year the number of calls jumped to over 900. The town and township each use one-third of the calls. West Porter Township uses 23 percent with 8 percent as “other.”
West Porter Township in Porter County does not officially contract with LOFS to provide ambulance service to the Porter side of Lakes of the Four Seasons community or the surrounding area in Porter County. Under an automatic aid agreement the fire force answers the calls because they are geographically closer to the portion of the area served by Porter Memorial Hospital Ambulance. Hebron serves Leroy in a similar manor.
These mutual aid calls have increased from 37 in 2010 to 79 in 2012. According to Crown Point Fire Chief Greg DeLor, who put together the study for both Winfield Township and the town, these statistics on how much help is needed say it all. The indication is that the calls for service are exceeding the resources provided by the community.
“This trend will continue to expand as the community grows,” said DeLor.
The funding sources do not meet the projected expenses. This year’s expenses are projected at $710,538 with only a total income of $581,200. This does not include the cost of the new equipment as seen above. The income is derived by $115,000 from the town, $162,500 from the township and $98,700 for fire only from West Porter Township, and LOFS Property Owners Association kicks in $25,000.
In order to provide adequate protection to the residents that live and do business in the Town of Winfield, the unincorporated areas of Winfield Township, West Porter Township, DeLor is recommending the creation of a Fire Territory.
A fire territory will reduce real estate tax bills that go to the township and town and become a new line item on the tax bills for the territory. With the state-mandated tax levy freeze in Lake County, there are no other sources of funding available.
According Winfield Clerk-Treasurer Rick Anderson the deadline for submitting a request for a fire territory is coming up shortly in the spring.
“When we looked at the fire territory three years ago, we were told we would loose all of what is budgeted for fire service. We pay $126,000 on contact now, but we would only loose between 30 and 40 percent of that off our tax revenue. We would lose the percentage off of the budget, not the levy. We would lose only between $50 and $75,000 from the taxes. But we would not have to pay the $126,000,” Anderson said.
That would amount to a net gain for the town of between $51,000 to $76,000. Winfield Township real estate tax bills will be reduced by the current line items it collects for fire service and cumulative fire funds.
If formed, the fire territory would have its own line items on all the real estate tax bills. On the 2011 pay 2012 tax bills Winfield Township’s tax rates are currently less than Center Township on fire service, but more than the City of Crown Point. In the city fire service is part of the general fund. How much the real estate taxes on property within a new territory would be, is yet to be determined.
Whatever happens, something has to be done soon to upgrade the equipment and to hire more full time personnel to man the stations and meet the growing needs of the people and their property that are in the Winfield area.
According to DeLor, the current Lakes of the Four Seasons Fire Force should become a social and fundraising organization with no direct ties to the operations of the fire department.
Right now all emergency calls handled by the LOFS Fire Force will only go to St. Anthony, Methodist in Merrillville or St. Mary in Hobart. A trip to Porter County hospital in Portage takes that emergency vehicle and its crew out of service for too long a period of time if they have to drive that far.