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Funding for fire tower in Hamilton County dies without a vote

September 3, 2015

A proposal to provide funding for a fire-training tower has died after public safety officials expressed no interest in a compromise.

Last month, the Hamilton County Council narrowly rejected a $3 million request to construct a public safety training facility, but offered to pay $568,000 for a fire-training tower instead.

The multimillion-dollar request for the entire project, 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 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 separate funding proposal for $568,000 was introduced after the council voted 4-3 against the $3 million project on Aug. 5, and the council formally considered the appropriation Wednesday night. No vote was taken, which effectively killed the proposal, according to council president Paul Ayers.

Earlier this week, the Hamilton County Public Safety Board sent the council a letter explaining why it wouldn’t be appropriate to accept the funding, which led to the council's decision, Ayers said.

“I don’t know where we are now,” Ayers said about the public safety training facility. “I’m not ready to start on it again.”

In the letter, board chairman George Kehl said it would be “irresponsible” to accept the funding without knowing what the exact cost of the burn tower would be without the rest of the project and suggested the plan be revised to determine that amount.

“We are grateful to the council for the $568,000 proposed to fund building the multipurpose burn tower, but this significantly reduces the scope of the original project,” Kehl wrote. “How an 81-percent decrease in the overall scope affects the cost of completing the tower has yet to be determined.”

Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen told commissioners at a recent meeting that building the fire tower alone without knowing about future funding possibilities would be like constructing a “bridge to nowhere.”

The commissioners have also expressed concerns about whether the interlocal agreements with Fishers, Noblesville, Carmel and Westfield are void now. Each city had agreed to contribute $40,000 annually for operational costs of the training center.

Commissioner Steve Dillinger mentioned last month that it’s possible nothing will built on the land now.

“I think everyone should be able to vote the way they want to vote,” Dillinger said. “It just seems a little strange that four people know better than the rest.”

Supporters of the project have argued that all city residents pay county taxes, so the county should financially support a public training center.

Ayers, who voted against the $3 million request, said he’s still concerned it could result in long-term costs or creation of a new county department to oversee the facility.

“I’m still of the same mind,” Ayers said. “It’s not our job.”

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