There’s a long lead time and a big pricetag, but Burns Harbor fire chief
Bill Arney believes the investment is well worth it for town residents.
During a three-hour 2012 budget workshop Tuesday, Town Council members heard
Arney lay out a plan to offer advanced-life-support ambulance service
through the Fire Department; it currently operates a basic-life-support
ambulance when needed.
Only council members Toni Biancardi and Mike Perrine were present so no
decisions were made; Louis Bain, Cliff Fleming and Jim McGee were absent,
the latter due to a death in the family.
Arney’s proposed Fire Department budget jumped from $222,430 this year to a
requested $642,564 including $150,000 for a new addition to the fire station
and $240,000 to pay ALS paramedics and BLS emergency medical technicians,
cross-trained as firefighters, to be on duty 24 hours a day.
Arney, in his fourth year as chief, said, “My job and goal is to take the
Fire Department to the next level and keep the town as safe as possible.
Fifteen minutes is a long time for someone with a life-saveable cardiac
situation to wait.”
With a new Porter hospital opening next year in Liberty Township and its
Chesterton ambulance station likely moving some or all its rigs to the new
site, Arney said it’s important to minimize any delays in response time to
Burns Harbor when people’s lives are at stake.
Fire services go
The full-time Chesterton Fire Department also has proposed to its Town
Council that it begin offering ambulance service; in both cases Arney and
CFD spokesmen said eventually their respective services should pay for
themselves through the response/transport fees charged.
Burns Harbor is a volunteer fire department but has managed, for the most
part, to have EMTs for the BLS ambulance schedule their duty hours
around-the-clock to be on station when needed. For ALS, more rigid
scheduling and licensing is required, a process that could take six months
Arney said the plan is not to move to a full-time Fire Department. “The goal
is to have someone ready to roll when the tone drops. I think it will save a
lot of lives in our town.” He noted the BLS ambulance already has done so.
Perrine, the Fire Department liaison, said ALS start-up costs could reach
almost $500,000 and he doesn’t see that available in the 2012 budget, but he
suggested waiting to see what the absent council members have to say about
it. A new Town Council will take office Jan. 1 as well.
Other budget decisions needed at some point are whether to authorize the
hiring of a fourth deputy marshal for the Police Department, and whether to
raise the pay for part-time police officers. Marshal Jerry Price also
requested purchasing a new squad car. His 2012 budget proposal of $574,669
is 5.73 percent above this year’s.
Unlike other area governmental units, clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said the
impact of the state’s property-tax caps on Burns Harbor’s 2012 budget will
be very minimal.
The requested budgets submitted by town department heads were $461,649 over
the estimated $1.33 million allowable property-tax levy next year, yet all
but about $50,000 of the overage was tied to ALS ambulance start-up.
This year’s general fund levy was $1.29 million with total town
appropriations set at $2.3 million. The 2011 assessed valuation assigned to
the town is just over $515 million resulting in a town tax rate of $0.2923.
This year full-time town employees each received $1,500 raises and
additional longevity pay; no decision on 2012 compensation has been made.
Early in the workshop Perrine said long overdue is paving/rebuilding
portions of Old Porter Road, the main local east/west road through town.
“Next year we’ll have to talk about some large, expensive projects and how
to pay for them.”
Another anticipated expense when the 2010 census is certified next year is
Burns Harbor’s mandated participation in the MS4 federal stormwater
protection program; of special concern is how the program will be
implemented and overseen by the town at ArcelorMittal’s industrial complex.
Perrine noted if the council had accepted Mittal’s recently proposed
agreement to receive extended tax abatement in return for Mittal paying off
outstanding town sewer bonds, that would have freed up money to make needed
town improvements like Old Porter Road.