Chesterton Tribune

BH council OKs buying ambulance, petition opposes CCDF tax hike

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By PAULENE POPARAD

With the purchase Wednesday night of a second ambulance, the Town Council formally authorized the Burns Harbor volunteer Fire Department to supplement its basic ambulance service by adding 24-hour, advanced-life-support care.

The town bought a used 2006 Ford Class 3 rig for $38,500. Fire chief Bill Arney said, “It’s like brand new.” After the meeting town officials toured the rig; Arney said a comparable new ambulance would cost over $200,000.

Earlier this spring the council appropriated $125,000 to buy the ALS ambulance, equipment and fund salaries through year’s end. Town businesses also have donated toward start-up costs.

Consensus among councilmen Wednesday was to give the new ALS service a year to financially prove itself and re-evaluate it at that time.

“I’m definitely for let’s dive in and see where we are a year from now,” said councilman Gene Weibl.

To keep costs down Arney said he will do as other smaller Fire Departments have done and hire ALS paramedics part-time to save on benefits and insurance; applications still are being accepted.

Councilman Greg Miller urged Arney to work with other area ALS providers to contain costs and save money where possible. Arney said he’s initiated such talks. Fire liaison councilman Mike Perrine said every way of saving a dime has been explored but after caring for dying parents in his home for a decade, he understands the need for prompt ALS response.

Council president Jim McGee said he doesn’t question the need, yet maintaining the service, staffing it and finding whether the fire station will need an addition all have to be taken into account. McGee didn’t sign the ambulance purchase order but later said he would have voted yes if the matter had come to a vote.

Councilman Jeff Freeze said although the budget impact of offering ALS is important, “I don’t want to put lives on the line and treat it like a business decision.” Arney said having the service will be “a huge step forward (for the town), otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Miller said the ALS service always can be disbanded if it isn’t successful after the trial period. Paramedic staffing is estimated to cost about $250,000 a year. Patients transported will be charged a fee for services.

Porter Hospital ambulances are the primary ambulance provider in the Duneland area, but sometimes rigs from the Chesterton station are on calls and delays occur, said Arney; Porter hospital will provide medical supervision for Burns Harbor’s ALS ambulance.

Arney was authorized to begin interviewing paramedics to staff the ALS ambulance. Emergency first-responders from the Fire Department staff Burns Harbor’s BLS ambulance.

CCDF remonstrance filed

Although it wasn’t mentioned during the council meeting, the Chesterton Tribune confirmed a remonstrance petition has been filed against a proposed 577.97 percent rate increase for the town’s cumulative capital development fund.

The rate would go from just over a half-cent to 4 cents per each $100 of assessed valuation.

That means CCDF collections would jump from $29,805 annually now to approximately $202,066.

The Town Council earlier had voted to seek a 5-cent CCDF rate. At that public hearing April 11 resident Gayle Van Loon spoke in opposition and no one spoke in favor. She and resident Bob Poparad asked how the new money would be used.

They were told generally for better services, paved roads, sidewalks and implementing elements of the new comprehensive plan, and that although the new revenue wasn’t planned on being used for operating expenses, having it means some capital projects can be removed from the general budget freeing up money there for operations.

However, state tax officials sent the 5-cent rate request back to the council saying the maximum could not exceed 4 cents beginning next year.

A new public hearing took place June 13. No one commented but when a reporter asked what the money would be used for, McGee said nothing right at this moment. Freeze said, once approved, priorities such as paving and infrastructure work would be set.

Wednesday, Van Loon said going around town she obtained about 72 signatures on a remonstrance petition against the 4-cent rate. The Porter County Auditor’s Office confirmed more than the 50 required signatures were certified, she added.

The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance will schedule a meeting to consider the remonstrance and to approve, disapprove or modify the town’s CCDF rate request.

After last night’s meeting, McGee said he had no additional information about the remonstrance and Miller said, “Nobody came to the (4-cent) public hearing but that’s fine; we’ll make our case.”

Said Van Loon, who did not attend the council meeting, “I’m against increasing taxes without being told what they’d be used for. It’s a very gray area what it could be. (For 2013) knowing they could ask for more increases, I’m very incensed. They said when we get more rooftops we could lower taxes. It’s not going to happen.”

She noted the council previously has mentioned a big jump in its cost for water hydrant maintenance fees, and that the town doesn’t collect a trash user fee --- both of which could be passed on to town residents next year, said Van Loon.

No town picnic this year

It was announced there will be no town picnic. Weibl said the picnic at Lakeland Park had become a long-time Burns Harbor tradition and he expects it will be revived next year.

Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said a citizen committee has traditionally made picnic arrangements but there’s only one person left on the committee. Perrine suggested the picnic be a council project next year coordinated with the Park Board.

Jordan said that board has had trouble getting a quorum for its monthly meetings, one reason there was no recommendation Wednesday on proposals the council secured to upgrade Bolinger Park. No Park Board representative attended the council meeting.

Weibl said if the Park Board can’t have its meetings, its members should step down and the council could disband the Park Board and conduct its business for them.

Arney said the Fire Department used to have a community event in the fall and he can discuss jointly sponsoring one with the Park Board.

On a related topic, Jordan said she doesn’t have confirmation that anyone is coordinating a town rummage sale Aug. 17 and 18 but Jordan offered to help advertise the sale if a chairperson comes forward.

 

Posted 8/9/2012