VINCENNES, Ind. (WTHI) – A proposed projection of city department budget presented to Vincennes City Council leaders this week showed a potential budget shortfall for the Vincennes Fire Department in 2016. The document was delivered, according to city officials, to department heads this week.
It should be important to note: The discussion about the Vincennes Fire Department’s 2016 budget was brought to light at a city council budget hearing regarding 2015 budget presentations. Fire Chief Gordon Becher told News 10 he was asked about his 2016 budget while talking about the Fire Department’s 2015 budget. The Vincennes City Council has yet to vote on the Fire Department’s 2015 budget.
The 2015 budget, if approved, would go into effect January 1, 2015. Budget hearings regarding the Fire Department’s 2016 budget would be held in August of 2015.
The information regarding Vincennes Fire Department’s 2016 budget was found in a document titled ‘City of Vincennes, Comprehensive Fiscal Projection.’ It included budget figures for prior years including 2012 and 2013, as well as current projections for 2014, and estimated projections for 2015 and 2016. The report was prepared by an independent party contracted through the office of the treasurer.
“The city council and the mayor were given a financial report of projections, and the projection is the fire department is going to be in trouble in 2016,” said Gordon Becher, Vincennes Fire Chief.
A line in the report read: Total Original Budget, $2,467,496 for fiscal year 2016.
“We have to be able to protect the citizens of Vincennes, and unfortunately to do that, the dollars just aren’t there,” stated Becher. Becher explained, that an antiquated fire district was the direct result in one loss of possible funds. According to fire officials, a fire district was created in the 1980s outlining boundaries which firefighters worked. Based on that district, which included Vincennes city limits, the fire department would collect its own taxes, from area tax payers.
The Vincennes Fire Department is not paid out of the city’s general fund.
Fire Chief Becher explained the district was ‘froze’ in the 80s and was not allowed to grow along with the city limits. The change would impose a greater response area for fire fighters, without firefighters not being allowed to collect taxes on those households. Everything outside of the original limits was considered Vincennes Township Fire area. In recent times, city officials explained, both Vincennes Township Fire, and Vincennes City Fire respond mutually to areas in city zones, which are covered under township areas. These areas include businesses like: Lowes on 6th Street, and Applebees on Kimmell Road.
“The bottom line really is the fire tax rate does not bring in enough money to support the services we provide the citizens of Vincennes,” said Becher.
At the Vincennes Mayor’s Office Friday, Mayor Yochum shared the same theory behind the lack of tax money for the Vincennes Fire Department, again citing the 1980s district zoning as an issue.
“As our city grows, the fire protection doesn’t grow, the fire protection doesn’t grow, as we expand, that fire protection stays with that district,” said Yochum. Yochum explained 39 firefighters are on the payroll under the city’s department; no staffing reductions were expected anytime soon. It was also noted that if reductions were sought in 2016, it would be through natural attrition.
“I knew then that this day was coming, as do all the firefighters,” said Yochum. The Mayor stated that several prior Vincennes City Administrations also knew the budget shortfall was coming and overlooked it. “It isn’t something that just all of the sudden, wow fire department’s in trouble.”
The Mayor explained another potential fix proposed at the city council budget hearing was the cross-training of first responding officers; police and fire.
Both the Mayor and Fire Chief had the shared the same thought about public safety, noting that the citizens of Vincennes should always be first.
“Primarily just to make sure we take care of the taxpayers and the city of Vincennes,” said Becher.
“Still offering the protection that we’ve always offered to the public in Vincennes,” said Yochum.