Berne reduces fire protection fee offer

    Berne city officials have reduced their proposed fee increase for rural fire protection services in 2013, but did not agree to a request from trustees in southern Adams County townships to leave the fire protection costs at 2012 levels.
    Berne had submitted to the townships a 3.5 percent increase in fire service charges for 2013, after several years of imposing a 5 percent annual hike. But the township officials balked at the proposed increase.
    "The trustees are saying they don't have the funds and cannot accept" the increase, Berne Mayor Bill McKean said last month. "They say they would be willing to give us the same as they paid last year."
    Councilman Ron Dull said the township officials have similar concerns with fees charged by the Geneva and Monroe fire departments. "We have asked them to do some research on what Geneva and Monroe are charging and to get back with us. The ball is in their court," he said at last month's meeting.
    Dull said the annual fees received from the townships make up 41 percent of the Berne Fire Department's annual budget.
    Geneva Town Council at its meeting earlier this month stuck to its original 3.5 percent increase, rejecting a plea from Wabash, Hartford and Jefferson township officials to forego the annual increase in fire protection fees.
    McKean said he met recently with township officials and offered to reduce Berne's annual increase to 2.8 percent, pending city council's approval. "I know I went out on a limb, but I will recommend the 2.8 percent hike," the mayor said. "Our responsibility is to give the best service we can to the rural areas, but it comes at a cost."
    Councilman Mark Wynn said he was willing to make that concession to help the townships through a difficult financial time. "If it helps them and doesn't hurt us, I'm okay with that," he said.
    Council voted 5-0 to present to 2.8 percent hike to the townships.