John Grolich, District 5 Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association Chairman appeared before the County Council Thursday evening to discuss the possibility of creating a Public Safety Local Income Tax to help area fire and EMS departments.  He said House Bill 1454 was ratified this year and provides for a Public Safety LIT although it was buried in a DLGF (Department of Local Government Finance) that was more than 250 pages long and only about 2 pages refer to the LIT.  The provision allows County Councils to create a Local Public Safety Tax.

Grolich’s recommendation is to enact the Public Safety LIT at the maximum of $.05 and based on estimated income in the county could generate $730,000 annually the local fire departments and EMS services in the county.  He said, “That sounds like a lot of money but there are 8 fire departments and multiple EMS agencies in our county as well.”   

The provision in the bill allows for a $.01 up to a $.05 on an individual’s income. Grolich said legislators are gradually decreasing our income tax across the state.  This year it is 3.15%, next year it will be 3.0% and in 2026 it will be 2.9%.  He said, “Our legislators have made some provisions that could truly offset this Public Safety LIT for our county.” 

Grolich gave an example of the tax.  If someone is making $4,000 a month they would pay $2 monthly.  If they only make $1,000 a month the Public Safety TAX is $.50. 

The funds generated from the Public Safety LIT could be used to create a sense of recruitment and retention for the volunteer fire departments.  Grolich said the volunteers in the various fire departments have a passion to serve their communities but not necessarily a passion to raise funds to keep their doors open.  He told the County Council they all have to raise funds through fish frys, pancake breakfasts and raffles.     

Grolich told the council they dispersed $30,000 of their APRA Fund to the fire departments in their county and purchased five 800 megahertz radios for each department in their county.  Those radios are $3,000 plus each.  Saint Joseph County has multiple LITs and generates over $3 million for their fire departments and South Bend and Mishawaka have their own Public Safety LITs for their fire departments. 

Councilman Will Paterson asked Grolich if he knew if the $730,000 was enough to help all the departments or if more money was truly needed. 

Grolich has one of their biggest challenges is technology and explained a cardiac monitor is $40,000 and has a life expectancy of 5 to 6 years.  Radios are at least $3,000 each and there are approximately 270 radios in the county.  A new fire truck is $800,000 and an aerial truck is between $1.2 to $1.3 million.

Councilman Jim Masterson asked what an equitable distribution of funds would be and Grolich said that policy can be determined by the governing body, which would be the County Council.  His recommendation was to distribute the funds equally.

Councilman Tim Harman, a member of the Budget & Finance Subcommittee said they need to find a solution for what the council is going to do when the Special LIT on the jail bond is paid off.  Currently that Special LIT is $.25 and generates about $4 million annually. 

Council members wanted more information and an opportunity to look at options that are available.

A Blue-ribbon Commission will be created to study the issue.  Participants will include John Golich, Jesse Bohannon, Tim Harman and Nicole Cox, a commissioner, stakeholders, and municipal government experts.  They will work to identify the challenges that the fire and EMS departments face, set priorities among those challenges, create a strategic and organizational plan, identify the costs, and identify the appropriate funding and distribution mechanism before enacting a new tax on those working.