In a unanimous vote, the Lawrence Advisory Board passed a resolution to merge, a move that drew applause from the crowd. More than 100 firefighters would be affected if the measure received final approval.Did you catch that? "They'll see a significant pay increase and a pension increase." That's the basic problem with all of these mergers. IFD absorbs firefighters from the townships and boosts their pay and pension benefits considerably to match those of IFD's firefighters. Lawrence Township Trustee Russ Brown notes the higher taxes property owners will pay the first year, but he assures us the property tax bills will decrease by about $150 on average in subsequent years. Is he talking about Lawrence Township ratepayers or Marion County ratepayers? Yeah, that's what I thought? He's talking about Lawrence Township ratepayers.
Very excited, long time coming," said Lawrence Township Fire Chief Michael Blackwell.
Under the consolidation plan, 18 of 127 firefighters would remain with the city of Lawrence with the rest rolling into IFD.
Lawrence Township firefighters were facing layoffs and took a 16 percent pay cut this year. Financial woes would go away if the merger goes through.
"They'll see a significant pay increase and a pension base increase," Blackwell said.
Supporters contend that consolidation saves taxpayers money by sharing services.
Trustee Russ Brown said there would be a slight cost increase the first year but that the decrease would be significant in the following years – about $150 on property tax bills.
IFD officials said consolidation brings enhanced fire safety and cuts duplication that already results in the two departments responding to the same runs.
Unfunded pension liability for public safety employees is what got Indianapolis into deep trouble before the state agreed to pick up about a half billion dollars in pension debt during the first part of the Ballard administration as part of a property tax reform plan that required all taxpayers to pay a higher state sales tax as a tradeoff for tax caps. Every time IFD absorbs another one of these township fire departments, it means the IFD taxing district will be paying more over the long haul to make up the difference in extra pay and pension benefits for those added firefighters, not to mention the cost of maintaining services in the primary areas of the county experiencing real growth. That translates into the need to raise property tax rates or find the money elsewhere in the city-county budget if the property tax cap law won't allow the fire district to raise the amount needed to pay for these expanded services. It's just more "Alice in Wonderland" fantasies. And we fall for it every time.