Dianne Frances D. Powell
Otter Creek Township officials Thursday unanimously voted to approve a lease agreement that moves the process forward on a proposed $1.8 million bond issue to construct a new seven-bay firehouse, which will replace a current building that sits in a flood zone in North Terre Haute.
The proposed bond issue would raise property taxes in the township 5 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
But before the vote, a public hearing was held inside Sandcut Firehouse, 5970 E. Rio Grande Road, in which several taxpayers voiced opposition and asked tough questions to officials.
One of them was Leonard Stultz, who asked about the firehouse project and about its financial impact on his taxes. One of the questions he asked officials is about the specifications of the new firehouse and whether there was really a need for “such a big firehouse.”
Michael Waldbieser, an engineer, described the new firehouse’s specifications.
He said the approximately 12,300-square-foot firehouse will have four bays in the front and three in the back. It can be staffed 24 hours a day.
It will be at the corner of Grand and Clinton streets on 4.25 acres of land the township purchased two years ago for the new firehouse.
The cost of the firehouse is $1.5 million.
Another farmer, Jay Dennis, also voiced opposition.
“It looks to me like it’s a lot of money spent on something I’m not so sure we really need,” he said, adding that the township currently has a very good fire department.
“And the way that you’re paying for this is my main objection. ... Land owners are really gonna get hit hard on this,” he said, because most farms are more expensive than other properties.
“If you want to tax my house, my barns and my grain bins, fine. I’ll pay it. But I don’t think it should be taxed on land,” Dennis said. “I think it’s unfair.”
Robert D. Salmon, Otter Creek Township trustee, defended the worthiness of the project.
“We’re not just looking to spend money just because we want to spend money. We’re looking to better the service at the most reasonable cost,” he said.
The township’s current fire station at 3200 Park Ave., constructed in the 1960s, rests in a flood zone and has been flooded twice since 1993. A new location would prevent any damage to firefighting equipment and a fire station from a flood.
The lease agreement approved on Thursday was between The Otter Creek Township Advisory Board and the Otter Creek Building Corp., with a maximum annual lease rental of $172,000 per year for a maximum of 20 years. The building corporation will enter into debt to build the fire station, but the management of the the fire station will be handled by the township, which will own it once the debt is paid off.
Lisa Lee of Ice Miller, a legal counsel, explained to the attendees that the lease requires that those lease rentals be reduced to match the actual debt once the construction bids come in, bonds are sold and once the interest rate is known.
A bond sale will be held Jan. 8. Construction bids on the project are scheduled to be received on Monday, and a final budget for the project is expected to be determined by Dec. 11. The bond sale would close on Jan. 22 and the project could then proceed.
Any township taxpayer objecting to the construction of the firehouse must file a remonstrance by Jan. 2.