Local officials postponed a meeting on creating a fire protection territory in northeast Allen County amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Members of Grabill’s town council and the boards of Springfield and Cedar Creek townships were scheduled to meet Monday night, but the meeting will now take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 19, at the Fudergong Community Building, 13720 First St., Grabill.

Members are scheduled to vote on the proposed establishment of the Northeast Allen County Fire Protection Territory. If established, fire and EMS services would continue to be provided by the Northeast Allen County Fire Department with plans for additional staffing over the next three years in an effort to improve service and response times.

“Our goal is to put a fire truck with at least three people on it full time, 24/7, and to make the two ambulance crews full time at a better pay rate — give them insurance, better pay and stuff,” Cedar Creek Township Trustee Steven Herman said.

At the current pay rate, it’s difficult to staff the ambulance crews, he said.

If a new fire protection territory is established, residents in Grabill, Springfield Township and unincorporated Cedar Creek Township will see a property tax increase of about 13.5-21.8% according to a financial impact analysis performed by Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors. For a home worth $200,000, a homeowner in Cedar Creek Township could expect to pay an additional $342 per year.

Establishing a fire territory would require at least two “yes” votes from each three-member government entity, including Grabill Town Council and the boards of Springfield and Cedar Creek townships.

A matter of public safety

Federal and state guidance recommends no in-person events of more than 50 people to slow the spread of COVID-19. That guidance is not likely to be lifted before the meeting March 19, but the three government entities are on a deadline to decide on the proposed fire protection district. If they wish to move forward with the plan, they must vote on it by March 31 in accordance with state law or they will have to wait until next year to start the process again.

Herman said they have asked the state to grant an extension, but as of Monday night it was unclear if they would receive an answer before the meeting March 19. If they’re not granted an extension or if they don’t hear back, they will have to decide if they are going to ignore the guidance on large gatherings and hold the meeting anyway.

“We’re hoping to hear from the state of Indiana whether they’re going to give us extra time. If not, we might have to drop it for another year,” Herman said.

Resident Mike Cameron said it’s important to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously, but local officials must balance precautions against the need to ensure quality fire and EMS services during this public health crisis.

“There should be some flexibility,” Cameron said.

He added that if there was an outbreak of the virus locally, these first responders would be responsible for transporting patients to the hospital.

“They’re going to be the first people to go to the nursing homes right down the road,” he said.

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