Township leaders should use meetings to provide peace of mind

Friday, March 3, 2017

Our Opinion

Township leaders should use meetings to provide peace of mind

Two eastern Greene County communities may soon have an officially merged fire department, but there are still quite a few questions which need answered for some involved.

Last week, a public meeting was hosted to discuss the possible merging of the Owensburg Fire Department and Center Township Fire Department to create a Center-Jackson Township Fire Territory.

According to information provided at a Feb. 22 meeting with the two departments, the goal is to ensure fire protection to both areas while also increasing the overall budget for the entity.

Unfortunately for many -- especially in Owensburg -- creating funds for the fire territory means a boost in taxes. But, the money has to come from somewhere in order to raise the funds necessary to provide fire protection such as keeping trucks up-to-date, having efficient facilities to house the high-dollar equipment, ensure equipment is certified and also make sure firefighters are certified and knowledgeable about changes in safety regulations.

While tax rate increases are a concern, some individuals in Owensburg are more concerned about who will have authority of the use of the budget for both townships and if the fire department built up by its own former members will be lost in the transition.

Owensburg resident Allen Brazzel, former Owensburg Fire Department secretary/treasurer Ashlee Swango, and former firefighter Larry Chaney, along with other members of the community, said their concerns stem from animosity after reportedly being locked out of the department after a contract was signed to assist the department for free in 2015.

Chaney said of the department’s 11 members at the time, only one is currently a member of the Center Township Fire Department.

At the last meeting, Center Township Fire Chief Dustin Payne ensured Owensburg residents both the Jackson and Center Township locations will remain operational with calls being answered from the nearest location. It is also possible the increase in tax rate could add another full-time position to oversee the department.

While the premise of the proposal makes sense, it is only fair those in charge present a more complete plan to ease the minds and answer the questions of those who will be directly affected by the change.

But, at the same time, fire protection has to be a priority. Response time should also be at the top of the list, which has been a concern raised by those in Owensburg as well.

Despite all of the concerns, it is also important to remember these are volunteer fire departments. There may be a couple of guys available to be on station, but many of the firefighters have full-time jobs and families. Volunteer firefighters put their lives on the line by rushing into burning buildings, chasing an out-of-control fire and seeing things many people could not forget without pay. They do it because it’s a job they love and not many are capable of doing.

Owensburg resident Jack Swango made an excellent point while chatting with one of our reporters this week: “Firefighters should be a brotherhood no matter what.”

Two more public meetings are scheduled for March 15 and March 19 at the Center Township Fire Department, with the third meeting expected to be when a decision will be made.

We hope the township and department leaders will take these opportunities to thoroughly listen and address the concerns of the individuals who will be directly affected by the change.