Princeton Fire Territory risks breaking up amid power dispute

Princeton Fire Territory risks breaking up amid power dispute
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 10:29 PM CDT
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GIBSON CO., Ind. (WFIE) - Officials on the Princeton Fire Territory Board are considering dissolving the Princeton Fire Territory after months of feuding over what entities have governing control of the emergency service.

For years, the Princeton Fire Territory Board was able to vote and make decisions on fire territory matters.

However, in the last year, the State Board of Accounts performed an audit and found that the city of Princeton is the providing unit for the fire territory.

The city then took on the role of the sole governing body.

The fire board is now advisory, and it effectively makes no decisions. With that setup, the Patoka Township has no representation.

Patoka Township Trustee and fire board member Phyllis Ernst said on Thursday this is unfair because the township actually pays more to the fire territory.

“If you’re putting in 70% of anything and don’t have a voice in it, that’s not fair to the citizens,” she explained.

She said they had an opportunity to have a joint board between the city and fire board, and the city didn’t take that route.

Princeton Mayor Greg Wright said giving the township more voting power isn’t out of the question though.

“That’s something I think we can fix, because when the state board of accounts ruling came down and advised us that we weren’t really operating in a proper manner, that’s when the city kind of took over,” he said. “We’ve accomplished a lot of good things. So I think it’s something that can happen and can be worked out.”

If they don’t work that out, Patoka Township is threatening to withdraw from the fire territory, which would divide the fire department between the city and the township.

Ernst presented a cost breakdown that outlined how neither entity would come out unscathed, but the city stands to lose more money.

“It is not going to be beneficial to the city for us to break apart,” she said. “That is the very, ultimately, last thing we want to have happen.”

She said they have to notify the state by April 1 if they do decide to dissolve the fire territory, and she expects a resolution with the city before it comes to that.

Mayor Wright is asking for more time.

“The timeframe that the trustees kind of put out there of a couple weeks is not realistic,” he said. “So I think we look forward to hopefully working it out with her where we can obviously save the fire territory.”

Everyone involved said their goal is to provide the best services possible, and an intact fire territory gives them the best shot.

How they reach that point remains up in the air.

Ernst said they will be hosting another meeting on March 29. She said she hopes to have the issue resolved by that point.