The Linton City Council met Monday evening, and once again the possible loss of business personal property tax income was a hot item on the agenda. Mayor John Wilkes noted that State Representative Matt Ubelhor was supposed to be at the meeting.
“I had a meeting with him a few weeks ago on this business personal property tax and he could not convince me that what the legislature is doing is right,” Wilkes explained. “He couldn’t prove to me that they were going to give us a revenue stream that would replace that money they’re going to be taking from the business personal property taxes.”
The mayor said Ubelhor agreed to attend the council meeting to explain the matter to attendees, but although the city sent him an invitation and a reminder he did not respond or show up at City Hall.
“I thank all the policemen and the firemen for coming out tonight, because their jobs are on the line if they are cutting all of these monies out of the personal property tax,” said Wilkes, adding that he still encourages everyone to contact their legislators and the governor, to let them know that the city needs that revenue.
Council President Jathan Wright reminded everyone that the council had to make a tough vote last year, after property tax caps necessitated the downsizing of both the police and fire departments.
“Now we have this breathing down our neck, and we’re not wanting to put our public safety at risk at all … Everybody contact your legislators and tell them,” he urged. “This is not a Democrat issue and this is not a Republican issue, it’s a community issue and it’s a matter of survival for our community.”
He added that it is something everybody should be passionate about.
“I’ll be truthful,” said Wilkes. “If this one passes, we will lose more money off of this one than we did off of the other one and we cannot have that. They just cannot keep doing that to us.”
He noted that legislators are trying to give communities options, but that the options are no good.
“One of them is to have local option income taxes controlled by the county, but we already have that. [Police Chief Troy Jerrell] and I were in a meeting over our 911 and we threw that out on the table to get them to put the local option income tax on– this was with our county council. Absolutely not– we’re not going to impose any more taxes. Well, I don’t like taxes either, but we have to have services and take care of our roads and take care of our people,” the mayor stated.
Council Member Linda Bedwell pointed out that the tax cuts would affect the city’s library and school, and Linton-Stockton Teacher Dan Thorlton stated that the school is struggling.
“We aren’t,” he clarified. “Our children are.”
Fire Chief Brad Sparks mentioned the two fire-related fatalities Sullivan has recently endured, and said that no one wants to see that happen in Linton.
“We had a shooting two or three weeks ago right here in town,” he continued. “That’s what this is going to affect. The roads have seen tremendous troubles this year with the weather being so bad, and that’s where that money comes from– those taxes.”
In other business, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cheryl Hamilton presented the city with a check for the park fund.
“The Chamber does the motocross out at the Conservation Club on city property. We have a lease with them, and every year they bring us a check from the profits they make off of that. So we appreciate it,” Wilkes explained.
Tom Densford told the council that the Indiana Railroad would like to finalize a discussion that started ten years ago. He said that as far as he could tell, there was an agreement between the city and the railroad to transfer ground to the city to be used as an access road. The railroad wanted two crossings closed between 7th and 8th street.
Densford said those things were done, but the paperwork was never completed to convey the property to the city. He noted that when the railroad and Wilkes began discussions again late last year, the city wanted to extend the strip of ground to 12th street, partly in order to improve the road to the electrical substation.
The railroad has requested that the city consider closing two additional crossings at 4th and 2nd Streets SW. He said the railroad wants this done because of pressure from INDOT and the Federal Regulatory Authorities to close as many crossings as possible.
“Indiana rates among the lowest in the country at crossing safety,” Densford explained. “That [means] they rate among the highest in the country at railroad crossing accidents including fatalities.”
INDOT has money available through a grant program, which could be paid to the city to be deposited in the general fund. INDOT estimates the city would receive about $30,000 for the closings of both crossings.
The public will be asked to provide input on the subject before any closures occur.
Sparks pointed out that a closure on 2nd street could cause a problem for emergency personnel.
“If we’ve got a train across the tracks here and we’ve got to get emergency personnel across down here, obviously we’re not going to be the only ones who are going to be crossing there. There is going to be other traffic smart enough to know, ‘Hey, we’ve got a shortcut and we’re going to go over here’. If we’re trying to drive a fire truck down the side roads, it [isn’t] going to happen.”
The mayor said he will get a traffic count for that road, and the council agreed to take a look at the matter before discussing it further.
Bedwell presented an “Attagirl Award” to Jerrie Thuis, a CVS employee who Bedwell credited with helping save a citizen from a scam that could have cost the woman thousands of dollars.
“With me, it’s not all about picking up trash sometimes,” Bedwell noted. “There’s a lot more important things that go on here in Linton, and one of them is taking care of our own. That’s what we do in Linton.”
Wilkes explained that Council Member Fred Markle first introduced the “Attagirl” and “Attaboy” awards to recognize outstanding citizens.
The council approved several invoices and change orders for the wastewater plant, including:
The Linton City Council held a public hearing Monday evening, to discuss an Economic Development Planning Grant the city is applying for through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA). The hearing gave citizens the opportunity to present their views on community development and housing needs.
The estimated cost of the study is $44,444. The requested grant amount is $40,000 and the grant match for the city will be $4,444, which will come from cumulative capital improvement funds. The estimated cost will include the study of the economic development plan, the administration of the grant, and initiating the environmental review of the project.
Mayor John Wilkes noted that the economic development plan will fit in with the city’s plan to bring industry into town and find out what type of businesses can be brought in.
During the regular council meeting the mayor was authorized to prepare and submit an application for grant funding to address the economic development plan for the City of Linton and to execute and administer the resulting grant. The grant will be submitted by Feb. 28 and the city should know whether it is approved by early April.
A second public hearing was held to consider vacating an alley so the group building the Cine Senior Apartments may put a porte cochere across it. The alley contains a gas line, which the city will have until the end of the year to cap. During the regular meeting, the council voted to vacate the alley.
The council approved a resolution to update the city’s comprehensive plan. The mayor said that comprehensive plans should be updated every seven years and that Linton is a little past that time limit.
“A comprehensive plan is basically a road map or a wishlist of things that we want to do,” Wilkes explained. “And one of the main things with a comprehensive plan is that if you don’t have one when you apply for grants, if you don’t have it updated, you don’t qualify for the grants. This Stellar [Communities Grant] that we’re working on– if we don’t have our comprehensive plan updated, we’re dead in the water.”
Farmers’ Market Manager Mark Stacy presented the new market bylaws on behalf of the Park Board. Stacy noted that the 2014 bylaws and vendor handbook will be very similar to those of last year, with the only notable changes being that the season will start later and end earlier and the market hours will change from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. to 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The council agreed to look at the changes and address them at either the March meeting or at a special meeting in the meantime.
A wastewater plant invoice from Graves Plumbing in the amount of $70,232.40 was approved, as well as a change order through OCRA for an additional $165,349.36.
Wilkes noted that money is left in the OCRA funds and that the project will still come in well below budget while including some additional work to the plant. A project extension of 36 days was also approved, and the wastewater plant should be completed by March 25.
In other business, the council agreed to:
At the end of the council meeting, Wilkes again encouraged everyone to write or call the governor or other state representatives to oppose the elimination of the personal property tax.
“If they pass that, that’s going to hurt the City of Linton worse than the tax caps did, and you saw what happened when we did the tax caps. We had to cut our budgets way back and we lost two policeman and a fireman,” he stated.
Fire Chief Brad Sparks explained that the Linton Fire Department makes over 1,000 runs a year, and that a reduction in funding could force the city to consider a volunteer fire department instead of a full-time department.
“If we would happen to go volunteer, it’s going to be hard to find volunteers to serve the public in our area and make over 1,000 runs year. You’re going to have to find a lot of [volunteers] because it’s going to be a scheduling conflict because everybody is going to have jobs,” Sparks stressed.
Council President Jathan Wright added that this is not a political issue but is instead a community issue that is a matter of survival.
The mayor provided a list of people for locals to contact, and encouraged everyone to use the following information:
Governor Mike Pence
Office of Governor
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797
State Representative — House District 62
200 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Senator — District 39
200 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Gov. Mike Pence’s recent proposal to attract business to the state of Indiana with the elimination or partial phase-out of its business personal property tax is drawing criticism from community members.
This tax assists in the funding of school districts, county and municipal governments, and public libraries. The state annually receives nearly $1 billion from the business personal property tax.
Linton Fire Chief Brad Sparks stressed that if the elimination of said tax occurs it could be detrimental to local communities, especially if it is not replaced by another funding source.
“If they cut that, the city of Linton could lose their police and fire department. It’s going to kill our small communities,” Sparks said.
If it passes, Sparks also sees a volunteer fire department in Linton’s future.
“We would end up with a volunteer fire department. We do more than a 1,000 runs a year and it will be hard for the city of Linton to find volunteers for that,” he explained.
Response time is key when fighting a fire, he noted. Volunteers are called to the scene from home, but career firefighters are already at the station.
“I am a volunteer on another department and I am not disrespecting volunteers at all,” he added. “With us being volunteer [in the future] it would also increase homeowners insurance because the ISO rating would go up.”
The fire department also has an ambulance that it operates within the city of Linton.
“It’s always here. It may be out for a short time, but it comes back to the department. In the volunteer situation, we’ll have to rely on the county. [The department’s ambulance is] owned by the county, but we don’t do out-of-county transfers. It’s basically a 9-1-1 truck only,” he added.
Sparks encouraged residents to contact their local representatives and voice their opinion on the matter.
“[Gov. Pence] is wanting to cut the tax to bring businesses and to be comparable to other states…The cut is a very good idea if they can come up with something to replace the money with, but [as of now] there’s nothing to make that money up with,” he said. “It’s going to be detrimental to the city of Linton… Unless they propose a way to make up for that tax.”
Bloomfield Superintendent Dan Sichting also brought up the business personal property tax matter at the recent Bloomfield School Board meeting.
“I have an issue with phasing out the business and personal property tax and not replacing it with anything else,” Sichting explained, noting in terms of income it could become a loss of $50,000 annually for the school district.
“It would be a major revenue loss if it happens,” Sichting stressed. “I’m not against eliminating [business and personal property taxes]. Just give us another funding source that we’re going to replace it with.”
The Indiana General Assembly estimates the impact on the Bloomfield School District would be the loss of an estimated $50,000 in tax levy above the Circuit Breaker losses, Sichting also noted.
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Updated: Fire at Coalmont Gym [Read Story]
Original article published Feb. 02 at 12:02 p.m.
Sometime between late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, the Coalmont Gym caught fire. Details are scarce, but Sunday morning Linton Fire Chief Brad Sparks said his department sent a tanker truck to the gym around 2 a.m. on Sunday.
Sparks reported that he believed utilities to the building were shut off, which made the fire’s origins seem suspicious, but that he had no further details.
Late Sunday afternoon, Lewis Township Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Shawn Husband explained that his department was dispatched to the gym around 1:30 Sunday morning and that although the origins of the fire are still a mystery the state fire marshal will be investigating on Monday.
“There were still power lines going in, but I’m not sure if they were actually active or not,” said Husband. ”We did have Duke Energy out there to disconnect all the lines for us.”
As far as he knows, no one was in the building as it burned.
“It was through the roof when we got there. It’s a complete loss and there’s not going to be a way to save anything– the bleachers were completely burned through and when we got there, there was just no safe way for us to go in and try to do anything. It had already collapsed in on itself and at that point it was not worth any of our firefighters’ lives or possibly causing injury to anybody,” Husband stated.
Firefighters ran ten different tankers and pumped at least 200,000 gallons of water on the fire, but even with a speedy response time it was too late to save the gym.
“I would say that we were on-scene within eight minutes [of being notified about the fire]. By the time we got the call, and by the time I drove past there getting to the firehouse in my personal vehicle, it was already through the roof. There’s a good chance it probably started a good time before, but nobody saw it until it was too late,” Husband explained.
Jasonville, Wright Township, Linton, Clay City, Cory-Perry Township, Pierson Township, Riley, and Shelburn Fire Departments responded to the scene, as well as Lewis Township and the Thunderbird Fire Protection District.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available.
No injuries were reported from a late morning fire that originated from an electrical issue in a mobile home in Linton on Monday.
Linton Fire Chief Brad Sparks explained, “We got a call about a possible shorted-out wire and it caught the insulation and underpinning of the mobile home on fire. It was an electrical issue.”
Linton firefighters were dispatched at 11:40 a.m. to 220 Southeast 7th St., the residence of Robert and Elizabeth Kuehn, and were on scene for about an hour.
“[Linton] utility workers arrived on scene and shut the power off. We extinguished the fire under the trailer. There was hardly any damage at all. I believe it was due to our quick response. Being an older [double wide] it would have went pretty quickly,” Sparks explained. “I notified the Red Cross because we shut the utilities off to the trailer, but as far as the loss goes it’s mostly smoke damage. There may also be some damage on the outside of the house. It’s not destroyed. The house and belongings are intact. ”
The Linton City Council Voted to adopt a resolution opposing proposed legislation to reduce or eliminate the business personal property tax. Mayor John Wilkes informed the council that Indiana State Legislature, as well as Governor Mike Pence, want to take the personal property tax off of business equipment.
“If they do that, it’s going to cut the total funding for the state by over a billion dollars. We have figured that it’s going to cost the City of Linton and Stockton Township about $500,000. When they did the tax caps and it cost us around $300,000 we lost two policemen and a fireman. If we lose this one, we’re going to lose more people,” he stated.
Wilkes pointed out that businesses that are currently ‘capped out’ on their property taxes would see no reduction in their tax payments due to a reduction or elimination of the Business Personal Property Tax, that the proposed plans make no mention of any corresponding tax increase to offset the loss of revenue, and that, if implemented, the result would be an across-the-board hike in real property tax rates that would transfer the tax burden from businesses to individuals.
“I know that for business people this is a hard thing to do,” the mayor added, “because with my business and my equipment it would save us several hundreds of dollars a year. But when I sit here as mayor and we try to maintain the services for the city, it just won’t work. They’re not giving us anything to replace it with, so I think we need to take a stand on this.“
In other business, the council voted to appoint Jathan Wright as their new president.
They acknowledged filing a petition for the city to vacate an alley so the group building the Cine Senior Apartments may put a porte cochere across it. The alley has a gas line, which will be capped and rerouted, probably this summer. The valves are situated south and north of where the alley will be closed.
City Attorney John Rowe said he believed this would be the most sensible and simplest option for all parties, and Wilkes added that the gas line is not necessary, and also that it is an old steel gas line of the type they are trying to eliminate, anyway.
The council voted to appoint City of Linton Comptroller David Sisk to the Economic Development Commission, and approved two year-round permits to sell produce at the park.
A new annual contract with the Greene County Humane Society was also approved. The city pays fees based on a five-year average of the number of animals they take in each year. This year, the city will pay for 96 animals at $45 per animal, which will amount to $4,320.
The city will also renew a lease with the Buck Creek Muzzleloaders. The organization pays $1 per year to lease a property north of the park, and the Buck Creek Muzzleloaders help the city with things such as work at the Roy Clark Building and donations of tables.
Harry Lehman was re-appointed to the Alcoholic Beverage Board.
Police Chief Troy Jerrell applauded the hard work of city employees during the recent severe weather, noting that the street department had most of the snow cleared from the streets before it could freeze. He also mentioned that power outages were short-lived.
Jerrell added that there has been vandalism to the southeast section of town, and that if anyone has any information about the incidents they should call the Greene County Crime Stoppers at 812-847-5463. A reward is offered for information leading to the arrest of a suspect or suspects.
The mayor said that all city employees handled weather-related emergencies quickly and in a professional manner, including the fire department, which battled several fires, and the water department, which handled plenty of after-hours work.
Fire Chief Brad Sparks pointed out that the fire department made two trips to one recent fire, and that they had to lay a line from a hydrant both times, which crossed Fourth Street and went up E Street.
“We had people running over the hose,” Sparks continued. “Police and fire are limited– we can’t put people there to direct traffic and keep people off these lines, but people need to watch. A one-hundred foot section of five-inch is $1,000, and the way the budgets are right now, we can’t afford to replace it.”
He added that everyone needs to be cautious when heating their houses, in order to reduce the chance of fire.
The council also approved several invoices, including:
Triad Engineering– $6,000
Graves Plumbing– $87,580.80
Smoke and water damage sustained in an early afternoon fire completely destroyed a home at 380 NE E St. in Linton on Wednesday, but no injuries were reported.
Linton Fire Chief Brad Sparks explained, “The house is probably totally destroyed, not from fire but more from smoke and water damage.”
The department was on scene for about two hours, he added, noting everything went well despite current weather conditions.
“We just had to deal with the weather conditions. [We were] dealing with the snow and snow-covered roofs, but everything went well in the situation,” Sparks added, noting the cause of the fire is believed to be electrical in nature.
“The cause is still under investigation, it’s not suspicious. He was using different types of heat. It could have been electrical… Most of the fire was up in the attic,” Sparks explained.
The owner of the home, Pete Tsouchlos, was not at the residence at the time of the fire, but a roommate was.
“The good thing is that the owner just moved back in. He lost some bedroom stuff and some pictures, but not everything was there yet,” Sparks said.
City workers were on scene to turn off the utilities and the Linton Police Department also assisted.
“Everything worked out really well under the circumstances,” he reiterated, later adding this afternoon’s call was not without incident.
“We had an incident where someone drive over the five inch hose – one section of the hose is $1,000,” he stressed.
Sparks also stressed the importance of being cautious when using heat sources.
“Make sure nothing is close to the heat source. Make sure everything is clean and serviced. A lot of people are having furnace problems because [the furnaces] are working hard to keep up.”
He also encouraged regular maintenance on heat sources such as furnaces.
The National Weather Service (NWS) in Indianapolis is warning that a significant winter storm is possible this Sunday. In central Indiana, they believe the snow will start Saturday night and lead to heavy accumulations in some areas by late Sunday.
The snow is expected to diminish Sunday evening, and the NWS is predicting bitter cold air across Greene County by Monday. The combination of temperatures as low as 15 below and strong winds may produce wind chills of 30 to 35 below on Monday and Tuesday.
Linton Fire Chief Brad Sparks said everyone should be prepared for this bitter cold. He recommended making sure your furnace is in working order and noted that while it is a good idea to have another heat source as a backup, you need to make sure you keep safety in mind.
“Don’t overload sockets with other heat sources,” Sparks cautioned, adding that electrical overloads can cause fires.
“You can prepare by stocking up on groceries and preparing to stay indoors for two or three days. If you don’t have to get out in it, don’t get out in it,” he urged. “People need to remember those around them, too. If you have elderly people living close to you, then check on them every once in a while.”
Sparks also pointed out that you need to be prepared to stay warm in your vehicle as well as in your home, since Greene County is expecting the type of weather that could cause hypothermia very quickly.
“If you get in your vehicle and you have a quarter tank of fuel and know you’ll be travelling, you should fuel it up. Keep some extra blankets and extra clothes on you and maybe even some sort of heat source you could plug in. If you get stuck and run out of gas, that way you can still keep warm. They have those Little Buddy Heaters that can help with that,” he explained.
Sparks encouraged motorists to make sure their vehicles are serviced, as well as stocked with emergency items, since it can be hard for emergency personnel to quickly get to everyone who needs help in the kind of weather that is predicted for the area.
He added that everyone should make sure outdoor pets have plenty of bedding, food, and fresh water.
You may view more winter driving tips from the Indiana State Police here.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there is a greater risk of home fires in the winter season when people cook holiday meals, display decorations, and possibly use unsafe heat sources.
The USFA cites cooking as the biggest cause of home fires and fire injuries, and offers the following tips to avoid trouble:
• If you leave the kitchen, turn the burner off.
• Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove so no one can bump them or pull them over.
• Do not turn your heat up too high—if you see smoke or grease starts to boil, turn the burner off.
• Keep a pan lid or baking sheet nearby. You can use it to cover the pan if it catches on fire.
Linton Fire Chief Brad Sparks said the local area fortunately does not experience many fires, but that everyone should still be especially careful in the cold weather.
“Statistically, the holidays and the winter months are the times that people end up having house fires, simply because with the colder weather they’re using some form of heat—wood burners, or chimneys they haven’t cleaned. Electrical overloads also happen a lot during the holidays, and everyone needs to keep in mind not to overload any electrical sockets while putting their Christmas decorations up,” he cautioned.
If you have a real Christmas tree, Sparks said you need to remember to water it so that it does not dry out and become more of a fire hazard.
“And it’s a perfect time to check your smoke detectors and fire extinguishers because everyone’s kicking their furnaces on now that the weather is getting cold. Don’t forget to change your furnace filters,” he added.
Sparks also urged everyone to be very cautious with their candles.
“Moms and even dads like to light candles at this time of year, not only for the smell but because it’s kind of a holiday tradition to have a candle burning. So when the kids come to the fire station we always tell them that they don’t want to play around the candles. You know how kids get when they’re playing—they can knock one over. You’ve got to think about the hot wax as well. A lot of little kids reach up to get ahold of them and hurt themselves with the wax,” he explained.
Sparks reminded everyone to keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children, and recommended unplugging your Christmas lights when you leave the house, as opposed to just shutting them off.
Sparks added that it is a good idea to keep an eye on your neighbors during the winter to make sure they are doing okay, and to be sure dogs that live outside have shelter and unfrozen water to drink.
The Linton Fire Department responded to a house fire on 8th and G Street NE on Tuesday afternoon.
The initial 911 call was placed at 3:26 p.m. and firemen were on scene at 3:32. Fire Chief Brad Sparks said police officers arrived first and informed him that the fire was fully involved.
“It was just me and Opie [Wall] for a long time. So I had one guy on the ground and he’s a Wright Township volunteer and his grandfather lives close so he came and kind of took over on the ground and then I had the ambulance personnel here as well, so they helped. The police department is always jumping in and helping,” Sparks explained.
Owner Bruce Moore said he lived in the house as a child, and when his father passed away several years ago he moved his family into it.
“62 years,” he stated. “I moved away for a long time and now I’m back, but yeah, that’s my old homestead. That’s where I grew up.”
No people were in the home when the fire started, although there were initial fears that Moore’s 24-year-old son was in the residence. His two dogs, however, were inside.
“Yeah, they got them out. Ah, jeez– I know they’re dogs, but,” Moore broke off with a relieved laugh. “They’re okay. They must have been hiding, because I was yelling for them and I just knew they were dead. I think they’re giving them oxygen or something now.”
They weren’t five minutes coming when I called, a neighbor interjected about the fire department.
“I am very glad,” Moore responded. “ It looks like the downstairs, as far as I can tell just sticking my head in, there’s no fire downstairs just some water and smoke and the debris, which is enough, but…”
At this time, Moore does not know how the fire started.
“My first thought is that we do have a wood burner, but that’s all fine. I looked up and it’s not even in that part of the house. Something happened upstairs, but other than that I do not know. There are two bedrooms up there,” he explained.
Sparks said he does not yet know how the fire started, adding that the upstairs is in pretty bad shape but it is a lot better than what it could be.
“I’m just glad everybody is okay, and I appreciate these guys’ work,” stated Moore as he gestured at Sparks. “I really appreciate them getting the dogs out. That is a big relief.”
His brother-in-law Bryan Correll added that both animals were looking good.
The Linton Fire Department currently has about fifty calendars featuring fire safety tips, health tips, and seasonal reminders to sell, and they are ready to print more if necessary. You can pick a calendar up for $10 at either Linton’s Blacksmith & Company Antiques and Primitives or at the fire station between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Proceeds from the calendars go straight into the department’s fire safety programs, and Fire Chief Brad Sparks noted that with the recent budget cuts fundraisers are necessary to keep the initiatives going.
“We’ve got fire safety programs going on, and one is with Firepup and they go out and solicit money for some of the books, and then we have a Community Safety Net, which is another program that goes out and solicits money. So we really don’t have to do that, but the public is getting hit for money three different times for this. But it’s got to be done,” he explained.
Sparks stated that the importance of fire safety training is tremendous, and that over the years since these programs started the number of local fires has decreased significantly.
He said the calendar project began after How Charming Photography Owner Heather Graves, who now assists the Linton Fire Department with all of their public relations activities, asked him if she could take department pictures.
“I asked her what other kinds of things we could do for fundraisers and stuff, and she brought up the calendar and I told her that was funny because I’d thought about that,” Sparks recalled. “It was getting close to fire safety season, so we decided to put this calendar together and throughout each month we put fire safety points, reminders, and different days you need to do certain things. My initial thought was to print these calendars and give them to each kindergarten student here at Linton. And that’s what we did last year.”
The calendars became a fundraising opportunity as well, and the proceeds went into the fire safety program. Sparks noted that this is only the second year of the project, and that last year things moved so quickly they did not get to add everything they wanted to. This year they put more pictures in the calendar, and next year they plan to add even more.
Sparks explained that Graves put more time into working on the calendars than anyone else, and that she did it free of charge.
“I think, if you go around and look, she’s done a wonderful job on those calendars. She’s been available to take the pictures and she put everything in the computer and did it herself,” he noted.
Sparks estimated that after selling the ads and printing the calendars the department profited about $1,200, and added that if Graves charged for her services it would probably eat up at least half of that profit, if not more.
Graves explained that she grew up with a father who was also a volunteer fireman, and that being involved in department activities has taught her more about what the firefighters and their families go through on a daily basis.
“These guys don’t get the recognition they deserve, and in going out to the businesses and soliciting them for ad space for these calendars it gave Brad and I the opportunity to show the importance of fire safety to the businesses as well as the kindergartners,” she explained, adding that there are people entering the workforce straight out of college who may not be aware of these safety tips.
“Yes, it was labor intensive and yes, it was a lot of work. But I walked away not only knowing about fire safety and how it’s changed, but also what these guys go through as a unit and what they do for the community,” Graves stated.
Sparks stressed that he wants to thank the local businesses who contributed to the calendar, because he knows the fire department is not the only organization asking them for contributions.
“It’s a competition, and we have three or four things that are going on all year long, so somebody is constantly coming through the door of a business and saying that we need this and this,” he noted. “But fire safety is very important to the community, and our businesses show 100 percent kindness. The Margrafs from McDonald’s just came up and gave us a little over $500 for fire safety, and all the money from businesses who participated in the calendars goes straight back into fire safety.”
Sparks added that he knows these businesses are pounded with donation requests, but that the funds are for the community and they are very much appreciated.
The calendars were printed in September, and Sparks and Graves hand-delivered copies to each business on October 2nd.
Calendar sponsors include: Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC, Graves Plumbing, Superior Ice, Welch and Cornett, Blacksmith & Company, Southside Express, Bloomfield State Bank, Greene County General Hospital and Clinics, Monical’s Pizza, Linton Sporting Goods, Carr-Thomas Construction, J&D Belt Service, JTB Concrete, Goodman Heating & Cooling, Anderson-Poindexter, Shields Hardware, Lakeside Body Shop, Landis Tool and Equipment Rental, HWY 54 Motors, Linton Cycle Sales, Kramer Tree Service, Miner Mini Golf, Strong AIT Center (NAPA), PDQ Rentals, Tangles and Tans, Hoosier H.I.T, Pomp’s Tires, and Major John Wilkes (City of Linton).
Three unrelated fires occurred in Linton this weekend.
Fire Chief Brad Sparks said the first was a grain bin fire, which tends to occur at this time of the year when farmers are trying to dry their grain out. Firefighters Opie Wall and Richie Budd responded to the fire, and farmers helped by getting the grain out of the bin.
“They got that one all taken care of and it wasn’t twenty minutes later before we got called out on this fire down on the other end of town. It was an abandoned house with no utilities whatsoever. The guy who owns it had a lot of antiques, a lawnmower shop, and auto parts stored in it, so it was a little suspicious and we don’t know yet what’s going on there, but it’s not suspicious on the owner’s part by any means,” Sparks explained.
A neighbor’s trailer sustained some heat damage, but Sparks noted that his residence never caught fire.
“We kept it out of his place and he just ended up with a broken window and some water damage in his trailer. There were some little things, being so close to the actual fire itself, but for the most part we saved his residence and it was all contained to the abandoned house,” he stated.
Cristy Phipps, part-owner of Linton’s Frightmares Haunted House, said that her employees tend to hang out around the haunted house after it closes, and when one of them stepped outside to start his vehicle he noticed the fire and called 911 early Sunday morning. They became concerned about the safety of the man who lives in the trailer next to the burning building.
“There were probably six of us all together and we ran around banging on Robert’s doors and everything to try to get him up,” Phipps recalled. “Not so much me, because I ran back since I was chicken and the fire was too hot. But Kegan (Inman) and my husband’s dad got Robert up and it took him a few minutes to get out because for some reason he was lingering and I think maybe it was because of his cat but I don’t really know.”
Phipps noted that authorities wondered how the fire was started since the abandoned house had no electricity, and added that the first fire hydrant the firefighters tried to use did not work.
“We’ve had problems,” Sparks agreed. “Back when Larry Kinnett’s Auto Sales burned, we had a problem with that fire hydrant. It is the main one that protects a lot of businesses right there. I wasn’t there when they tried to turn it on, so all I know is that when they turned it on they didn’t get any water out of it but water was blowing out of the ground. Something is not right with it.”
Sparks noted that while all the hydrants in Linton do not work, the majority of them do.
“We hit the initial hydrant, which put us in a predicament because the house was fully involved and we needed to get it knocked down in order to protect the house the guy lived in, so the firefighters opened up our master stream device. We thought we had water, but what happened is that we ran out of water quickly. So we rolled the second truck out, which got our water going again, and we then pulled hose in the nearest hydrant, which was about a block-and-a-half away. It was two blocks away at the most, and that’s not an unusual distance for us.”
Sparks added that the third fire occurred north of town, and that it was caused by a fireplace.
“It wasn’t anybody’s fault, it was just an unfortunate circumstance,” he explained. “The best part of it is that they saved his house and Wright Township showed up and helped us, which was a tremendous help under the circumstances.”
Sparks stressed that despite financial problems or reductions in manpower his department will continue to protect the city.
“We’re going to do our best to keep the same services going,” he stated.
Those attending Monday evening’s Linton City Council meeting were greeted by home-made signs protesting suggested 2014 budget cuts to the police and fire departments. The sign-makers expressed concerns over the safety of police officers and firefighters, as well as that of the community as a whole.
During the meeting, Linton Mayor John Wilkes presented the 2014 budget and the council voted to approve a $3,111,579 budget, which Wilkes pointed out is a 15 percent decrease from last year.
Local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Paul Clark asked the mayor if there would be any public discussion about the budget and the mayor replied that he would answer questions after the meeting. Wilkes then said that when he and Comptroller David Sisk first began working on the budget they cut about $250,000 of what he described as “fluff” before they needed to make hard decisions. At that point they began working with Clark, the police department, the union, and the fire department to cut about $250,000 from personnel in the fire and police departments.
The council then signed the new budget and adjourned the meeting.
Linton’s fire and police departments account for about 94 percent of the General Fund’s budget.
The local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has been working with the mayor since late August in an attempt to save two positions on the police force, including offering between $70,000 and $75,000 worth of alternative cuts intended to save money without impacting public safety.
Early in October, the mayor informed Linton Fire Chief Brad Sparks that the fire department could lose a position as well, and representatives from the local International Association of Firefighters and the Professional Fire Fighters Union of Indiana began searching for ways the department could resolve the situation and prevent future problems of this nature.
Linton Police Department Officers Michael Harroll and Brock Garrison have the least seniority on the police force and Firefighter Ross Gentry is the newest member of the fire department.
After the meeting was closed, Clark asked if Wilkes knew when he would be prepared to announce where the personnel cuts would come from and Wilkes replied that although the two of them have discussed it and Clark pretty much knows the answer he cannot finalize everything because two firefighters are on workman’s compensation and the city is trying to get that worked out.
“This is not something that we want to do,” stated Wilkes. “But when the money’s not there, and that’s what it boils down to, when they put the tax caps on and they cut the money out there’s no place to get the money. I do appreciate the guys working with us and trying to figure out how we can do this thing but when there’s no money there’s no money and that’s what we’re up against.”
Clark then asked if the city was taking preventative measures to make sure this does not happen again. The Mayor said that they will do anything possible to get more funds but right now there are no avenues for the city to adopt a tax to bring the money in, and added that drops in property tax money and County Option Income Tax revenue caused the current crisis. He stressed that everyone should let their legislators know what they are doing to small communities.
“They are hurting our police and our fire and that’s what’s doing it, and we need to get a money stream coming back into these communities so we can support you guys,” Wilkes added, also noting the city will try to come up with other work for police or fire workers who lose their positions.
Citizens then asked questions and offered comments. In response to a question about whether or not the budget can be amended if the city gets more money the mayor responded that it could and would be changed. Council Member Linda Bedwell stressed that the decision to cut personnel was not easy for anyone on the board.
Wilkes said the city will have to tighten its belt to make sure this is not a problem that will come up year after year.
When asked if he knew how many positions would be cut from the police and fire departments Wilkes replied they would probably lose a combined three positions and added that they have taken some money from the utilities in lieu of taxes to put in the General Fund to offset the cost of the police and fire departments, but they have reached the legal limit of how much money they can transfer in that manner.
A woman thanked the police department for helping her family through a hard time when her son was having problems with drugs.
“Because of them I have my son back,” she explained, “so I don’t want any of those jobs to be cut and I want to get rid of the drugs, too.”
The mayor responded by assuring her they know the officers are doing great jobs.
Another woman pointed out that every time someone from the police or fire department goes out on a call they put their lives on the line and stated that the community should stand behind them. Wilkes agreed and said he hopes to find a way. When she suggested the city raise money through fines on littering the mayor said his door is open to anyone who has ideas about bringing in additional revenue.
The mayor was then asked how the city will repay the grant that is currently paying the salary of the police department’s 11th officer, and Wilkes replied that they will take that money out of utilities. Police Chief Troy Jerrell said they will need to refund about $120,000 and the mayor added that although that money could pay additional salaries next year they would end up in this position again the following year.
When it was pointed out that firemen’s lives would be put at risk by a reduction to the force Wilkes assured everyone that the council is working to find a way to solve the problem. He said the only way the city could get additional money at this point would be through taxes the county would be capable of implementing and repeated his belief that state representatives need to address this problem.
After the meeting broke up, Jerrell said that while he understands there are budget problems he still hopes another solution will be found besides cutting personnel. Sparks stated that it is not over and he is glad the council is leaving the lines of communication open.
“Other than the guy who loses his job and our lives being put on the line, it’s the people who are going to suffer. I understand what John [Wilkes] is doing. He’s doing what he has to do, it’s just that everyone’s hands are tied and hopefully we can find some money,” added Sparks.
Clark noted that the FOP’s concern is that citizens will no longer be afforded the same level of police protection they have come to expect in Linton.
“I know that we will try to provide the same level of protection, and that we will try to do more with less, but the bottom line is that you are probably going to see the philosophy of policing change from a proactive approach to more of a reactive approach. That is a very big detriment to public safety because if all you can do is wait for something bad to happen and try to catch the person who did it that is a whole lot different than trying to catch bad guys before they commit crimes,” Clark explained.
He stressed that cutting police manpower by 20 percent hampers the department’s ability to catch people in criminal acts because officers will be busy responding to the crimes that have already occurred, and added that the FOP’s primary goal is to try to control the quality of life of local officers. Clark said once final decisions about personnel cuts have been made and implemented the quality of life of the remaining officers will be affected.
“We don’t want this to become a place where nobody wants to work. We don’t want to lose the experienced policemen we have because there is no quality of life here. Obviously policemen don’t take the job for money. We take the job knowing we won’t be at home with our families—we’ve all missed birthday parties, we’ve all worked nights, we’ve all been called out on our days off,” Clark explained.
He stressed that once quality of life within the department begins to drop he fears the loss of experienced policemen, since the department does not pay well or offer great benefits.
“This is not a solution,” he stated. “We did not lay off two policemen and now the situation is resolved. We laid off two policemen in the first round. We expect to be back down here fighting for public safety jobs the next time the city incurs a major expense, whether that is health insurance, liability, or litigation. That money has to come from the tax base.”
Clark added that the signs outside city hall did not come from the police department or the FOP and said it was nice to see that people cared. He also appreciated the people who attended the council meeting and were vocal in their support of the police and fire departments.
“The lady who spoke about how the police department saved her family probably single-handedly justified ten policemen’s careers in their minds. That was as touching a thing as I’ve ever seen in a city council meeting,” said Clark.
City Budget Cuts Timeline:
Kindergartners from Linton-Stockton Elementary School enjoyed field trips to the Linton Fire Department this week as part of the station’s annual Fire Safety Training.
On Thursday morning, Firefighter Richie Budd conducted the station tour and training for Lena Miller’s class, including a demonstration of his fire gear and how it works.
“Does anyone know why my pants are down my boot like that?” he asked the kids.
“So they don’t get lost!” one child responded enthusiastically as the class laughed.
“So we can get in them real fast,” Budd explained before letting a student step into the boots and pull on a fire suit.
He then wondered if the students knew what to do if their houses caught on fire, and they answered with a chorus of “crawl”.
“Stay down on the ground and crawl,” Budd agreed. “The smoke rises so the heat is up here and you want to stay as close to the ground as possible.”
He showed off the rest of his gear and noted that firefighters look strange once they put it on.
“Do you want to be afraid of us when we come in to look for you? No, you want to try to say, ‘hey, help, I’m over here.’ You don’t want to go hide underneath the bed,” Budd cautioned.
He talked to the kids about family fire drills and having a set meeting place in case of an emergency, then took them into the firefighters’ living room to explain that they work 24 hour shifts at the department.
“It’s just like home here,” he noted before taking them to see the firefighters’ bunks, turning the lights off, and setting off the alarm and lights that wake them up in case of a fire.
The kids got to look at the ambulance and fire truck, and hear the sirens close up—with plenty of covered ears and laughter.
Kasi Shaw was helping out with her daughter Kinsey Bedwell’s class during the tour, and commented on the fact that the children enjoy exploring the station.
“They don’t know what to expect because they see the fire station driving by it and that’s about it. When they come in they get to see the equipment hands-on and they love it,” she said.
Shaw also believes fire safety training gives the kids good information that prepares them for emergency situations.
“They get to hear the fire alarms and not all of them have had fire alarms in their homes,” she noted. “And not all of them said they had a fire plan. So I think this helps.”
Student Tommy Thompson said he learned about stop, drop, and roll, as well as how you should react to a fire.
“It gets up in the air and you have to crawl,” he explained, adding that you can breathe there.
The kids left with some educational supplies made available by local sponsors, including calendars that feature fire safety points and reminders as well as pictures of fire trucks.
You can find out more about the Linton Fire Department and fire safety at www.lintonfire.com.
Early this month, the Linton Fire Department learned the city may lose a firefighter position due to the current civil city budget shortfall. Eric Carpenter, President of the local International Association of Firefighters has a meeting on October 13th with the president of the Professional Fire Fighters Union of Indiana to discuss ways the department could resolve this situation and prevent it from being a problem in the future.
“When we approached him about it he felt for us and everything, but he said this isn’t something that’s new. There are departments all over the state that are going through this,” said Carpenter.
Fire Chief Brad Sparks noted that the fire department is now in the same situation as the Linton Police Department, but with much less notice.
“When I approached [Mayor] John [Wilkes] about that, his answer was that first he didn’t think the fire department was going to be under fire but as it came closer to the deadline unfortunately we kind of got thrown under the bus, too,” Carpenter explained.
He stressed that communications between firefighters and City Hall are open, and that Wilkes has told him he’s more than willing to keep the firefighter position if they can find a way to cut enough money from their budget.
Firefighter Ross Gentry, who did an internship with the department while attending high school and then starting working there full-time in April of 2012, has the least amount of seniority and would be the firefighter to lose his job. Carpenter said if this happens, the mayor told him it would probably go into effect in mid-to-late November. He pointed out that this would affect the department badly at this point in time.
“We only have 9 guys to begin with, and right now we’ve got two guys off for workman’s comp … If we lose Ross on the layoff then that brings us down to six guys,” Carpenter explained.
He also noted that according to safety regulations you should have four firefighters to run a fire engine and that in cases where only two people were scheduled for a shift if one of them could not be at work the city would need to pay overtime. This is a way the fire department’s position differs from that of the police department, because firefighters get paid overtime while police officers receive compensation time instead. Sparks said additional overtime generated by the reduced manpower could ultimately cost more than keeping the extra man.
Carpenter added that he also expects this to create more problems, although they don’t have estimates on the dollar amounts that could be involved.
An additional way in which the fire department’s situation is different from that of the police department is that while Sparks said the fire department has considered using a grant that would pay for a firefighter in a way similar to the grant the police department has for its 11th officer, the fire department chose not to apply for that type of grant. Sparks explained that they realized the grant would lock them into keeping that employee for a set amount of time even if layoffs became necessary, and that it would not have been the best choice for either the fire department or the City of Linton.
Carpenter remarked on the fact that his union has not yet had a chance to work on this problem with representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, who have been in budget cut discussions with the mayor since late August.
“Unfortunately, we found out so late it’s made it difficult, to put it mildly. Ideally, that would have been perfect for the two of us to get together,” he explained.
Sparks noted the fire department provides fire protection for the entire Stockton Township and also runs a full-time ambulance service for the area. He also pointed out that Linton has a lot of people in assisted living situations, and that it is important they have access to quick responses during emergencies.
“The only thing we have to survive off in this area is assisted living,” Sparks stated. “What else is there here? There’s nothing in this community but assisted living, and how are we going to protect assisted living by cutting manpower? Our hospital has just expanded for that reason, and now we’re going to cut our police, fire, and EMS. It makes no sense to me, but there again our tax payers voted on it.”
He added that while some community members consider switching to a volunteer fire department to be a viable cost-cutting option, that would come with its own problems.
“They can go to a volunteer fire department at any time but they’re going to have to come up with extra people, because we’ve got nine guys doing the job. They are going to need two to three times that many people … and every one of those people is going to have another job. Are they going to be available to make the approximately 1,000 runs we make a year? Will the service be the same for our citizens?” Sparks asked.
Carpenter noted that response time is generally the biggest concern with volunteer fire departments.
“With us being here on-station the response time is tremendously better than a volunteer department. Even an active volunteer department that’s doing all they can do, they’ve got to cover from home or work or wherever,” he explained.
Sparks said the Stockton Township area response time is generally three to five minutes, and that while that may seem like an eternity to the person who dialed 911 it is a short time to get a fire truck or ambulance on-scene.
He went on to note that local fire departments assist each other with equipment and manpower, so cuts to the Linton department could impact response times in other parts of the county.
Sparks explained that department activities such as Fire Safety Month tours and giveaways for kids, sponsorship of sports teams, scholarships, and buying and hanging American and Linton Miner Flags are not funded out of their budget but are instead taken care of through donations and fundraising efforts.
He said even the previous fire department administration was watching money carefully after voters chose to cap property taxes in 2008.
“We were told in 2008 to tighten our belts and start preparing for the worst—be ready, be ready, be ready,” Sparks recalled. “And that’s exactly what the fire department has done. There have been no big purchases made by the City of Linton on the fire department side since then. Everything here has been done by donations, or grants, or fundraising activities we’ve done on our own.”
Sparks said they have already cut about $30,000 in basic things such as maintenance costs for their equipment from their budget, and that while they hope to find additional cost-saving measures to enable them to keep the firefighter position the budget is already bare-bones. He added that in the long term the city will simply have to generate more tax revenue.
“The ultimate answer is a local income tax that the commissioners could put on. But the way I understand it now is the commissioners we have are not for adding any taxes. As a taxpayer I understand that, but also as a taxpayer when I call 911 I want someone to respond. When I go to drive home I like to drive on blacktopped roads. I like to know things are working in our community,” Sparks stated.
Carpenter asked community members to attend the next city council meeting at 6 p.m. on October 14th at the City Hall.
“We’re basically trying to rally support not only for us but for public safety in general,” Carpenter explained. “Anyone out there who catches word of this, we encourage them to call their council members, call the mayor’s office, and most definitely attend on the 14th to show support if they’re able. If anyone has any questions we can answer we’re willing to talk to people or meet with groups or do whatever we can to help the situation.”
Sparks added that he believes money can be raised to help offset the budget shortfall, but that citizens will need to be willing to pitch in.
“Right now it’s just up in the air and we’ll see what we can come up with at crunch time,” he remarked. “I think without the voter support we’re spinning our wheels, but with the support of voters showing that they’re willing to help– that’s where we’re going to succeed.”