GREENVILLE — The future of the newly-formed Greenville Township Fire District remains undecided as its board considers options for how to proceed with the town's fire protection.
The Greenville Township Fire District Board tabled a vote on contracting with nearby fire departments at Wednesday's special meeting. As the fire district prepares to transition from an all-volunteer fire department to a combined paid and volunteer staff, the board had previously been planning to vote on proposed contracts from Georgetown Township Fire Protection District, Lafayette Township Fire Protection District and New Chapel EMS for 2020.
The three-member board voted 2-0 to table the decision, with board member Jerry Burkhart abstaining due to a conflict of interest (his son serves with the Lafayette Township Fire Protection District).
Board members voiced hesitation in voting on the proposed contracts with other fire departments for 2020 when they do not currently have funding in hand from the town trustee's office. Dr. Chris Jenkins, one of the board members, proposed working with the Greenville Township Trustee to maintain its volunteer fire protection for 2020 as the board develops its fire district for 2021. The board will not make a decision on that option until the fire board investigates legal concerns.
"I do not believe it was the intent of the Floyd County Commissioners for us to hastily establish fire protection," Jenkins said. "We currently have no money and are guaranteed no funding for 2020. I believe it's fiscally irresponsible to take loans to offer protection when not necessary. Each proposal we've been offered is us taking loans to offer fire protection."
At the board's regular meeting on Sept. 19, they will discuss these other options for 2020, and they will have "some time to regroup," according to board chairwoman Heather Peters.
"We have a lot of work to get on our feet, and I think that's why we slowed down a bit," Peters said. "We need some other procedures in place, we need to know when the trustee's going to turn over this money."
At the fire board's next meeting, the board' legal counsel is going to look into the fire board's protection duties in relation of the township trustee, and the focus will be on the potential management of volunteers for 2020, Peters said.
"It could be that we have a overlapping duty at this point in time, so the conversation at that meeting is going to be about whether we want to manage the volunteers, if we do that by contracting with the trustee and what our duties and responsibilities are vis a vis if we don't want to contract with a [department] next year," she said.
Peters she has spoken with Greenville Township Trustee Mary Jo Loop, and she believes the trustee has "every intention" of turning over funds to the fire district. The fire board is expecting to receive $245,000 in general tax levy funds from the trustee, and other funding could potentially come from the sale of capital and/or loans from the Floyd County Council or the state.
The fire board already submitted a "bare-bones" 2020 budget of $500,000 to the Floyd County Auditor by Sept. 3, but that is subject to change depending on what direction the fire district goes, she said.
Peters said it's been a challenging process, and the board is committed to doing "what's fair and fiscally responsible for the residents based on objective information." The fire district would not receive tax revenue until 2021.
"We're hoping we can get a full fire department put together and contracted with by the time we get some tax levy money," she said.
Burkhart said the fire board has to "work within its means, and right now, our means are zero."
"We're trying to do the best for them and for us, and that's all we're trying to do," he said. "We're trying to make sure that we're not going to go so far in debt that we can't get out for five to six years. That's the biggest thing."