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Shipshewana Council sends fire contract back to townships

The Town of Shipshewana thought it had an agreement worked out with the three townships that its fire department services.

“I felt we had developed a compromise,” Shipshewana Town Manager Mike Sutter told the council Thursday evening. He reminded the council that following a public meeting, a compromise was presented to the three townships, with a March 12 deadline. The town received the agreement back from two of the three townships, but with additional language added.

The agreement sent back from Clay and Newbury townships related to the fire call charges, an issue that has been at the center of the discussions since last summer. Sutter noted that they had not received anything from the Van Buren trustee.

Town attorney Kurt Bachman told the council that due to the revision, the townships essentially rejected the offer. “There is no contract at this time,” he said. Bachman noted that all four parties – the town and three townships – must sign the agreement for it to be valid. An original agreement was signed by the town and Van Buren only, making that effort invalid.

Sutter described the revision sent by the townships as “legalese.” The paragraph inserted by the townships stated that if the town decides not to levy a fire call charge, an amount equal to that charge would be credited to the collected fire service charges, which would be used to calculate the department’s revenue for the year. This would be a direct cost to the town. The town felt that this amounted to Shipshewana reimbursing the townships for fire calls within the town limits.

The compromise reached in February had left $10,000 of the fire department’s budget to be filled through the fire service fees, with any amount over $10,000 collected returned to the four parties based on the agreed budget percentages.

Bachman recommended that the council reject the revised agreement and then extend a new agreement with not only the added language from the trustees, but an amendment from the town that would cap the fire service charges at $10,000. The council approved that recommendation, with a deadline of March 26 at 4 p.m. Signed agreements are to be returned to Ruth Ann Downey at the town hall only.

Council member Nate Jones asked how this will end if this is the final offer. Bachman answered that it would only end once the town tells dispatch that the fire department will not respond to those areas not covered by a fire service agreement. “That gives them the opportunity to seek it (fire service) elsewhere,” Bachman said. “You are a service provider. There is no obligation to provide it outside of the town.”

Bachman also noted that each township could enter into a fire service agreement individually with the town, which would require a new agreement to be drawn up.

Sutter told the council that it is the nature of the council to reach an agreement and the town would “try one more time. Then we will take other steps.”