Will the St. Joseph Township advisory board vote today on the future of the township fire department, as a sign in front of the department proclaims?
Probably not but maybe.
In any event, township officials need to avoid the kind of 11th-hour decision they made late last year, placing fire protection for 2012 in uncertainty until Dec. 30.
Township Trustee Richard Uhrick said the board is expected simply to approve its budget at todays meeting. But he said that he is waiting for a proposal from the Fort Wayne Fire Department on contracting for the responsibility of protecting the portion of the township outside city limits. Such a proposal is welcome and appropriate – but its already getting late in the year to consider such a major shift.
Clearly, changes need to be made. Last week, Robert Grayless resigned as president and a member of St. Joseph Fire Department Inc., the non-profit that operates the department. Grayless blamed Fire Chief Gerald Lencke for his departure – and was the eighth veteran member to leave the department this year. In an unusual setup that fails to serve township residents, the chief is appointed not by the elected township trustee – who is accountable to voters – but by a vote from the firefighters as members of the non-profit corporation.
The longer-term problem facing the fire department is that annexation has eaten away most of the territory the well-equipped department covered, raising questions regarding the cost efficiencies of maintaining such a large department when city fire stations located on Lahmeyer and Rothman roads could serve the area.
If that doesnt happen for 2013, the advisory board and trustee should consider language in its contract with the fire department that gives the trustee power to appoint the fire chief.