The days of all-volunteer fire departments in Floyd County soon will be history.

This week, Floyd County Commissioners approved a plan that would create fire districts in Lafayette Township, New Albany Township and Georgetown Township. The decision — which had to be made by March 1 to be included in next year’s tax base — will pave the way for paid firefighters.

A tax levy will be created to fund the new fire districts. The exact amount of the levy has not yet been established, but county taxpayers from the new fire districts will see an increase on next year’s tax bills. County Auditor Teresa Plaiss said the actual amount will be established by the Indiana Department of Local Government and Finance later this year.

Frank Cummings, of GFC, LLC — a consultant who helped draw up the petition — estimates that in the 2007 budget Lafayette fire district will need $781,800 (includes eight paid firefighters), Georgetown $696,500 (includes six paid firefighters) and New Albany $697,500 (includes 12 paid firefighters).

While there will be a tax increase, supporters say the extra protection is needed.  

“Look at the number of developments in the county,” said New Albany attorney John Kraft, who helped the volunteer firefighters draw up the plan and petition for fire districts. “The majority of taxpayers in the county want fire districts — that tells you something. We need fire districts.”

Two of the three commissioners agreed with Kraft. Commissioners’ Steve Bush and Dr. John Reisert voted for the districts, while Charles Freiberger abstained.

Freiberger said he isn’t against fire districts, he just said a public hearing was needed so more taxpayers could understand the issue.

“I believe we need paid firefighters,” he said. “I just felt like we needed a public hearing. We had to vote for it, or have a public hearing, because if we had voted it down we would have had to wait two years to bring it back up.

“I just don’t think the taxpayers know how much this could cost them ... I just wanted them to be more informed. But I agree we need the protection.”

The commissioners now must appoint a board of fire trustees for each district. The districts must be represented by at least three trustees, and there must be an odd number of trustees in each district.

“I just felt like it was time to have full-time firefighters,” Bush said. “There have been public meetings and another public hearing wasn’t going to change my mind. There has been so much growth in the county ... we just couldn’t wait any longer.”

Each district will have both paid and volunteer firefighters. However, a paid staff will be on duty 10 hours a day.

“I think we need full-time firefighters,” Reisert said. “It used to be that volunteer firefighters worked locally and if there was a fire, they could respond quickly. That is not happening anymore. Many have jobs where they can not get away.”

However, New Albany Township Trustee Tom Cannon is against the plan. Cannon said fire tax for residents will likely triple and service will not improve.

Georgetown Volunteer Fire Chief Terry Herthel said the commissioners didn’t have a choice. He said it is almost impossible to find volunteers to man the fire stations during the day.

“If we had a run right now (1:30 p.m.) I don’t know if we would have enough guys,” Herthel said. “There are so many guys who work during the day. It’s hard to find volunteers.”

Reisert said he would have preferred to had one fire district cover the entire county. However, he said the townships did not want to go that route.

Greenville and Franklin townships chose not to become a district and will remain with an all-volunteer force. Each fire district will remain in the township boundaries of Georgetown, Lafayette and New Albany.

Reisert said he has not heard one complaint about the proposed districts and the tax increase.

“I think people are more concerned about the safety of their property,” he said. “I think people feel like they will see deductions in the homeowners insurance.”

Herthel said during three public hearings, no one spoke negatively about establishing fire districts.

“This is something they will benefit from. Their tax dollars will be working for them,” he said.

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