RENSSELAER — Vicki Dorris, general manager of the Emergency Services Billing Corporation (ESBC), was invited to speak Monday to the Rensselaer City Council to discuss its mission of “assuring adequate funding to support quality and up-to-date emergency services.”
Rensselaer Fire Chief Kenny Haun said local firefighters run approximately 250 calls in the average year, combined between Rensselaer Fire and Marion Township Fire, which are both housed in the same building in Rensselaer. Haun said the city runs an average of 70-75 calls per year.
Haun is looking at finding ways for both departments to get reimbursed due to continuous budget cuts. He told the council he will be speaking with the Marion Township Trustees about the ESBC and would like to have both departments be aided by the corporation.
The department works off a budget funded through taxation. Haun said that budget is getting cut more and more for various reasons.
“I still have to provide a level of service,” Haun said. “What people expect is (that) when they call 911 and they’re calling for the fire department, they expect the fire department to respond. And, if there’s no funding available or no money available, how do you respond? Because it takes money to run those trucks up and down the road.”
He said one very recent example could be the closure of the local Genova plastic plant in Rensselaer.
“That’ll be an impact on us,” Haun said. “We still have to provide a level of protection, but how do you do it if there’s no funding? So when places close or property taxes go down or whatever happens, it effects all of us — not just the fire department, but it effects all of us.”
Currently, the departments do not collect any reimbursement.
“We don’t get reimbursed for any of our calls or anything like that,” Haun said. “We just don’t get reimbursed. We don’t charge for any type of runs.”
Most of the action is on Interstate 65, which impacts Marion Township Fire.
“Basically 70 percent of our call volume is on I-65,” Haun said. “Those people traveling down I-65 are not from this area. They don’t pay taxes. They are just traveling. The taxpayer is burdened with that cost. So it’s my thought that we need to start billing for those accidents or car fires or whatever, so that we can continue to operate the fire department and not have to raise taxes.”
Due to the cost of equipment and turnout gear and the Rensselaer department’s recent issues with its aerial truck that is still out of service, combined with budget reductions, Haun told the council he is “trying to figure ways of how we can help fund this fire department and keep it going in the future.”
“The equipment’s not getting any cheaper,” Haun said to the council Monday evening. “And, unfortunately, the budget, as you know, keeps going down.”
Haun then asked Dorris to give the council a presentation on what ESBC does.
ESBC, established in 2006, has a stated mission to help fire departments recoup response costs from insurance companies, based on a given department’s billing preferences. The corporation is intended to support recovery costs from responses that departments perform, so that a department’s focus can be on assisting and protecting its local community.
“All the funds have to go back into the fire department for equipment, gear, anything like that (having) to do with the fire department,” Dorris said. “That’s what you can use that funding for, but it does have to stay within the fire department.”
Dorris said the corporation covers “all over Indiana” and is starting to personally cover areas in Illinois, as well as offering less personal assistance to departments in other states. She said ESBC is not paid its fees until a given fire department is reimbursed.
The council decided to let city attorneys Jacob Ahler and Michael Riley look over ESBC’s contract information to come back with a recommendation. Mayor Stephen Wood said the council “shouldn’t take too long” to make a decision about it, and that it would be better than the department’s current situation where virtually no reimbursement is collected.
“It’s better than what we’re getting now,” Wood said. “We’re getting nothing.”