County commissioners agree to put Benton Township on path to join Monroe County Fire Protection District

Benton Township residents can mark their calendars for a meeting on March 23 or 24 or 26 at 6:30 p.m. to be held at the Unionville Senior Center next to the township fire station out on SR45.

The topic and agenda of each meeting will be the same—a proposal for the township to join the Monroe County Fire Protection District (MCFPD).

Benton Township will follow a process similar to the one that saw Van Buren and Bloomington Townships join the fire district last year. Based on decisions made last year, by January 2021, the geographic area of the MCFPD will include Van Buren, Indian Creek, Clear Creek, Perry and Bloomington townships.

Benton Township would be added to the fire district starting in 2022.

At the March meetings, Benton Township residents will get financial details on the increase in fire protection property tax that they’ll be asked to pay, in order to have two full-time paid firefighters per shift staff Unionville’s fire station.

The township currently contracts with Benton Township of Monroe County Volunteer Fire Department, a 501(c)(3). Benton Township has up to now also contracted with Bloomington Township for the last 40 years to provide backup service. Last year, Bloomington Township merged with the Monroe County Fire District.

Now the idea is for Benton first to contract with the fire district, and then join effective 2022.

After a presentation from township trustee Michelle Bright on Wednesday morning, the three county commissioners gave unanimous approval to the resolution that outlines the procedure for adding the largest township in Indiana to the Monroe County Fire Protection District.

Even though it has the greatest land area—through a merging of Marion and Benton townships in 1947–Benton Township boasts just 3,818 residents. Votes get allocated to landowners at a maximum of one per parcel and one per owner.

For Benton Township to be added to the fire protection district, at least 20 percent of landowners have to return a postcard that has already been sent out with a letter announcing the March meetings.

If at least 50 people living in the current fire district or 50 people who live in Benton Township file petitions with the county auditor, then the commissioners have to hold a remonstration hearing.

Otherwise, as soon as late April or early May commissioners could see an agenda item approving the addition of Benton Township to the Monroe County Fire Protection District, according to county attorney Jeff Cockerill.

The process commissioners are using is meant to ensure that the majority of township residents support being added to the district. At Wednesday’s meeting, Benton Township board chair Joe Husk told commissioners that the proposal has unanimous support from the board.

Based on the 2020 budget order, the property tax rate for basic fire protection in Benton Township is $0.0923 which results in a total certified levy of $246,319.

The existing fire station on SR 45 includes a fire engine, tanker, rescue vehicle, brush truck, medical squad, support vehicle, utility vehicle, and a boat.

Among the factors that are pushing the decision for Benton Township to join the district is the increasing challenge of recruiting volunteer firefighters, Bright said. The planned consolidation would benefit Benton Township’s volunteer firefighters, because it would opening up career positions for those who are interested, Bright said.

Staffing the fire station with full time staff will reduce response times by several minutes, Bright said. Bright also said the addition of full-time staffing would likely prompt a reduction in homeowners insurance premiums within most of Benton Township, but that would depend on on each agency and policy.

One of the arguments for Benton Township to join the district is that it will spread the cost of services over a larger number of people, and that way minimize the tax impact, Bright said.

Washington Township is on a similar path to joining the fire protection district. Responding to an emailed question from The Square Beacon, Washington Township’s trustee, Barb Ooley said Washington is about six weeks behind Benton, so that there’s no confusion between the two townships.