The town of Leo-Cedarville is pursuing an annexation that could lead to a partnership with Huntertown for fire and EMS services. While Leo Town Council president John Eastes and council member Ray Pulver called the offer from a Huntertown a good option for Leo, other council members, residents and members of Northeast Allen County Fire and EMS are concerned the move would sour the relationship between Leo and its neighbors in east Allen County.
Following a meeting Oct. 28, Perry Township Trustee Eric Tippmann issued a letter to the town of Leo-Cedarville detailing plans to build a second fire station at the intersection of Hursh and Tonkel roads, which would support the existing station in downtown Huntertown. In his letter, which was directed by a resolution from the Perry Township Advisory Board, Tippmann invited Leo-Cedarville to join Huntertown in the formation of an expanded Northwest Fire Territory should the town comply with certain statutory regulations.
“It is our hope that our reputation for providing cost-effective and yet highly competent and professional fire and EMS services precedes us,” Tippmann’s letter read. “For example, in the current year of 2020 we managed to provide 24/7 fire and EMS services for a tax rate of just 0.059 (per $100 assessed value). These funds supported 10 full-time personnel, many of whom are dual trained as firefighters and paramedics.
“Moving forward, we anticipate that if we combined accessed values of the current Northwest Territory with the accessed values of an expanded Leo-Cedarville contiguous with our territory, we could comfortably provide the same high-level of protection that citizens of Perry Township, Huntertown and Eel River have been accustomed to.”
Tippmann said Perry Township believes the new tax rate for the two fire stations would be 0.08-0.095 per $100 of assessed value.
Perry Township is currently anticipating breaking ground on its new station in 2021.
“In fact, we have already made a massive investment in an additional six paramedics which are currently operating 24/7 and being housed on Union Chapel Road very near Tonkel Road,” Tippmann said.
Eastes and Pulver attended the Oct. 28 meeting in Perry Township. During a council meeting Nov. 17, Eastes noted while he was “excited about the possibilities, what that might mean for our town,” the decision would come down to a five-person vote. Council members have previously been unable to reach an agreement regarding the formation of a new fire territory.
Leo-Cedarville currently contracts with Northeast Allen County Fire and EMS, a nonprofit department comprised of volunteer, part-time and full-time firefighters and paramedics, which has struggled to recruit volunteers in recent years. Town Council members reopened discussions with the department in May of 2019 regarding the possibility of forming a fire territory between Leo-Cedarville, Grabill, Cedar Creek Township and Springfield Township. While the formation of a fire territory could provide better fire protection, prevention and emergency medical services for residents, Leo ultimately decided to bow out of the plan because the other entities refused to sign an inter-local agreement presented by Eastes. That agreement called for the department to be municipally owned with one entity serving as provider unit and controlling funding. It also called for all equipment to be turned over to the provider unit.
In order to join the new fire territory with Huntertown, Leo-Cedarville would have to successfully pass a proposed annexation to the west of its existing corporate limits, becoming contiguous with Perry Township. The annexation is for 361 parcels in an area bordered by Tonkel Road to the west, Hursh Road to the south and Schlatter Road to the north.
Leo-Cedarville Town Council member Greg Peck, who has repeatedly disagreed with Eastes’ decision to pull out of the northeast fire territory discussions, called the plan “ludicrous.”
“I am not for this,” he said. “We can’t turn our backs on the fire department that we have now, and the men and women that have been serving us. This is ludicrous to be sending Leo-Cedarville money — taxpayer money — into Perry Township. … What you guys are doing is terribly wrong. We should be in this fire territory that sits in our lap right now.”
Eastes responded that he believes the partnership could present a more affordable scenario for Leo-Cedarville residents.
“All I’m saying is we need to look at options,” he said. “We need to look at what makes sense for our community. My No. 1 loyalty is to Leo-Cedarville … I’m concerned about the cost to Leo-Cedarville taxpayers.”
Pulver also noted that while no decision has been made, he is in favor of looking at all of the town’s options.
“I’m going to go out and I’m going to search every option, because I’m going to look out for the best value and quality of service for our town,” he said.
Tim George, Northeast Fire and EMS fire chief, also expressed his distaste with the proposal.
“As a former member of Northeast for nearly 20 years, me, along with many others, gave our volunteer time to this community, to the town of Leo, and this to me — and I’m sure it feels the same way for other members — is a slap in the face to us. We devoted so much time to this, and now you’re going to turn your back,” George said.
Town Council member Scott Connally also questioned why Eastes and Pulver did not inform the other council members about the Oct. 28 meeting in Perry Township. He said if any other meetings take place, he expects everyone on council to be notified.
During the Nov. 17 council meeting, a resident who lives in the proposed annexation area accused Eastes and Pulver of acting “behind everybody’s back.”
“This is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard, to go out of your territory and go clear to Huntertown when you have your neighbors next to you,” she said.
Leo-Cedarville Town Manager and attorney Patrick Proctor noted the town’s contract with Northeast Allen County Fire and EMS would not be dissolved unless either party gave the other a 60-day notice.