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Monday, March 29, 2010

Outside fire runs a concern for City of Bloomington and Bloomington Township fire departments.

Posted by Scott Tibbs at 4:30 AM (#)

Note: I am taking a journalism class this semester. This is my third article for that class.

After a sprinkler was vandalized in Eigenmann Hall, residents of the dormitory were forced into evacuate the building and wait outside in negative-degree temperatures after 11 p.m. while the matter was investigated, according to a Jan. 21, 2009 article in the Indiana Daily Student. Some students lost possessions due to flooding caused by the vandalism.

This is one of many instances of false fire alarms at Indiana University, which places a burden on the city of Bloomington's Fire Department.

In 2008, the City of Bloomington's Fire Department made 532 fire runs to the IU campus, according Todd Easton, deputy chief of administration. Of those, 321 of those fire runs were for false alarms. The city fire department made 581 runs to the IU campus in 2009. Of those, 318 were false alarms.

Both the City of Bloomington's fire department and the Bloomington Township Fire Department provide fire protection for areas that do not pay property taxes to them. Critics say that both Bloomington Township and the City of Bloomington are not getting enough compensation for the fire protection they provide.

In an e-mail, Bloomington City Council member Steve Volan said fire runs to IU account for an average of about 20 to 25 percent of all fire runs. He argued that the amount IU pays to the city is not adequate.

"The amount IU has paid to the Fire Department in lieu of taxes -- a little more than $2.5M -- represents barely a third of the total expense the BFD has incurred in serving IU," Volan said

As a state entity, IU does not pay property taxes to the city, but the university contracts with the city for fire protection. From July of 2007 through June of 2008, IU contracted to pay $617,957 for fire protection, according to city attorney Michael Rouker. From July of 2008 through June of 2009, that number increased to $655,333.

This phenomenon is not unique to the city. It is also present in township government.

The Bloomington Township Fire Department provides fire protection to neighboring townships that do not pay property taxes directly to Bloomington Township. In 2008, 24 percent of fire runs by the fire department were to Benton Township and 19 percent of fire runs were to Washington Township, according to the annual report posted on the fire department's Web site.

Benton Township gave $46,400 to Bloomington Township for fire protection in 2008. Washington Township gave $53,300 to Bloomington Township for fire protection in 2008. The budget for the fire department's fire fund for 2008 was $1.276 million, according to township trustee Linda Sievers.

"I think we are very good neighbors and I would like to see the contract amounts increase," Sievers said. "I feel like they could contribute more."

She will be looking into this issue as she and the fire chief work on the strategic plan. Washington and Benton townships "have a residual benefit because we are a very good fire department and they benefit form that," she said.

A candidate for Bloomington Township Board also expressed concern.

"That looks a little shy," Dave Shuee said about the payments from neighboring townships. "It sounds like the problem is not necessarily with the runs being done but the proportion of payment."

Shuee wonders how the numbers of the contracts are derived.

"It sounds like there's been a flaw in the biding process," Shuee said. "Whether the board was diligent or negligent is certainly a good question but how can you tell without having seen the process?"

Volan asked a question via e-mail regarding the city's subsidy to IU.

"IU has sovereignty enough to have a police force; how much would it cost them to have their own FD?"

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