Hamilton County Council denied a $3 million funding request for a countywide public-safety training facility Wednesday night, but approved spending $568,000 to construct a fire-training tower.
The multimillion-dollar request, pushed for by the Hamilton County commissioners, included gun ranges, classrooms, infrastructure improvements and a multistory training tower for firefighters to practice controlling real fires. Plans called to build the public safety campus on 96 acres near 161st Street and River Road in Noblesville.
A majority of the county council mentioned concerns about a long-term funding plan and had issues with providing financial backing for fire and police protection, which cities and townships are typically responsible for doing.
The county council was the last entity needed to approve the project. Earlier this year, the city councils in Fishers, Westfield, Carmel and Noblesville each approved providing $40,000 annually for operating costs.
Nearly 20 people, including police and fire personnel, residents and elected officials from surrounding municipalities, spoke during the hour-long public comment period, with slightly more than half in favor of project.
“We’re not asking you to go into debt. We’re not asking you to issue bonds. We’re not asking you to increase the tax rate,” Fishers City Council President Pete Peterson said.
The council voted 4-3 against the $3 million proposal, with Amy Massillamany, Jim Belden and Steve Schwartz supporting it. Fred Glynn, Rick McKinney, Brad Beaver and Paul Ayers voted against it.
“Not to vote for this deal is foolish,” Schwartz said. “To me, it’s a no brainer.”
Immediately following the vote, Belden and Schwartz walked out of the meeting, and Beavers suggested funding $568,000 to cover the costs of building the fire burn tower. The proposal was approved 4-0-1, with Massillamany abstaining.
“I have absolutely no words for what you’re doing right now,” Massillamany said, mentioning after the meeting she had not been expecting a separate funding proposal to be introduced.
Many supporters argued at the meeting that firefighters need a place to train with live fires, and the burn tower would alleviate part of that need. McKinney said the tower is expected to take 12 weeks to construct.
“A half of a loaf is better than no loaf,” Ayers said. “At least you have a start.”