Washington Township starts process to join fire district, would make 7 out of 11 member townships in Monroe County

At its meeting last Wednesday (Sept. 30), Monroe County commissioners approved a resolution that sets out the process for Washington Township to join the Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD).

A series of three public meetings about the proposal, to be conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform, have been scheduled. The final public meeting is set for Friday, Oct. 9.

If Washington Township is approved as a member, that would eventually make seven out of 11 Townships that are a part of the MFPD. It would mean nine out of 11 townships get fire protection from MFPD, either as members or through contract.

This year Benton Township was already approved for joining the district in 2022, the same year Washington Township would become a member.

A recently announced three-year $3.8 million federal grant that was awarded to MFPD won’t reduce the property tax rate that member township residents pay. But it will provide immediate funding for 14 additional firefighters and reduce the amount of cash reserves that need to be tapped in 2022, according to MFPD chief Dustin Dillard.

Cash reserves will need to be used, because of the lag in timing for additional contributions of property tax and local income tax by new member townships. There’s a six-month delay before the first infusion of property taxes to the district from new member townships. And the property tax footprint from new township members that goes into the local income tax distribution formula is not factored into the mix until a year later, because the footprint is based on the previous year’s levy.

At this week’s public hearing on the MFPD budget, Dillard said the 2021 budget is based on a rate of $0.3622, which is more than the $0.1917 levied for 2020.

Dillard said he thinks the rate for 2022 should decrease to less than $0.3000, after the fire district is getting the full revenue stream from property and income taxes.

Residents of the five MFPD 2021 member townships currently pay less than the 2021 rate. Clear Creek, Indian Creek, and Perry townships, as 2020 members of MFPD, paid the same rate of $0.1917 in 2020.  Bloomington Township residents paid $0.3306 in 2020. Residents of Van Buren, the other new member township paid $0.2520 in 2020.

Both Benton and Washington townships will be contracting for services with MFPD in 2021. This year Washington Township was a part of the two-township Northern Monroe Fire Territory, with Bloomington Township. And Benton Township contracted with NMFT for fire protection.

When Bloomington Township completed the process for joining the MFPD last year, that meant the dissolution of the NMFT, which meant Washington and Benton townships are switching to contracts with MFPD for 2021, with an eye towards joining MFPD in 2022.

Bloomington Township was one of two townships to join the fire district last year—the other was Van Buren. The process that county commissioners have set forth for joining the district is the same for all townships. That was apparent last Wednesday, when a “scrivener’s error” was spotted in the resolution considered by the commissioners for Washington Township. The resolution named Van Buren instead of Washington as the township to start the process for joining the district.

One difference in the approach that Washington Township is taking to the requirements was highlighted at last Wednesday’s meeting, by trustee Barb Ooley. She told commissioners that the township had not posted signs announcing the public meetings, but instead had sent a letter to each household in Washington Township. The letters explained how the Zoom video conferencing platform works.

Ooley said she was hesitant to rely just on posting signs throughout the township, because there are not that many connecting roads in Washington Township that aren’t already covered with political signs. Ooley was afraid the signage about the fire district meetings would get lost among all the political signs.