Winamac Council Members Urge Action on Firefighter Shortage

Winamac Town Hall
Winamac Town Hall

The Winamac Fire Department is being told to step up its recruitment efforts. Town Council President Tom Murray made the request during last week’s council meeting. “They need to jack them up and get them in gear to get more members on the Fire Department and not list any excuses about why they don’t want to,” he said.

Town Manager Brad Zellers told council members that the department’s down to about 12 firefighters, but has been interviewing some potential members. “They’ve done that three or four times and don’t ever put anybody on,” Murray responded. “They need to.” Council member Judy Heater agreed that 12 firefighters is not enough.

However, Clerk-Treasurer Melanie Berger says that the town is getting some financial help for public safety from Pulaski County. “Winamac has been receiving since January Local Option Income Tax B, which is for public safety,” she said. “We get roughly $4,500 a month for this fund, so you’re looking at about $54,000 a year. My understanding is we have it indefinitely.”

The County Council voted to implement the tax last October, to offset a $2 million decrease in property tax income. With its share of the money, the Town of Winamac plans to buy nearly $24,000 in equipment for its Police Department, including rifles, cameras, breath tests, and computer equipment. A public hearing on an additional appropriation to spend these funds is planned during next month’s council meeting. The Winamac Fire Department would also be eligible to use LOIT B money, but hasn’t yet finalized its list of potential uses. Berger added that if the money accumulates over time, the police and fire departments may be allowed to use it for vehicle purchases.

At the same time, Winamac is looking to clarify its responsibilities when it comes to paying the county for emergency dispatch services. Zellers says the town currently pays the county $32,000 a year for dispatch. However, town officials say Winamac is the only community in Pulaski County that pays for the service.

Council Member Heater says the arrangement’s been in place for many years, but no one’s sure if the town is actually required to make the payments. “In this day and age of having to cut your budget where you can, that seems to be kind of a logical place, if it’s something we’re paying that’s just a courtesy,” she said.

Zellers plans to talk with communities in neighboring counties to determine what their arrangements are. Marshall County recently formed a committee to help divide the cost of dispatch services among cities, towns, and townships.