The Hudson Township Annual Budget Meeting occurred last week and drew significant interest from a crowd of nearly 100 people. I presented a budget analysis of LaPorte County volunteer fire departments and revealed that the average spent for 2019 is $116,000. The recent proposal offered by Olive Township grows over three years to about $589k, resulting in the highest-cost fire department among LaPorte County townships. The next highest department (Kankakee) spends $290k for an area quadruple its size and more than four times its population.
As a management expert, I study operations and measure their value-add based on two principal factors: effectiveness (doing the right things using the right tools for the job) and efficiency (implementing those tasks in an economical manner). Sometimes large increases are warranted; as such, we delve deeper to try and understand why. In terms of the proposed costs for Hudson, we have to look at those factors which are driving up the cost for the Olive Township Fire Department and find that they are moving to a full-time paid force. We also find that they are investing in training and maintenance of new equipment designed to meet the needs of the future of St. Joe County (industry focus). Those choices may be highly effective for the Town of New Carlisle and Olive Township, but they do not fit well with the needs of Hudson Township and its growing recreational and retirement economy. Both counties share a common agricultural tradition, yet are widely different in terms of their future economies.
From the efficiency perspective, optimizing the skills of firefighters and their tools/training for an industrial economy rather than a recreational/residential economy is not efficient. Indeed, we need to choose the most appropriate tasks/activities/tools/location for the needs of Hudson. Keep in mind that Hudson already pays more than $60k per year to LaPorte for EMS services, further eroding our fiscal efficiency. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all, and that is why we have the present conflict.
Long-term, the needs of each community will continue to diverge as New Carlisle constructs its next fire station located closer to the industrial complex, and LaPorte County establishes its next EMS station closer to Rolling Prairie and Hudson Lake. Any settlement today will only result in a continuing conflict over the years. The residents of Hudson Township need to take a strategic perspective, develop their own competency, and step up to the task of managing their own future. Outsourcing public services may have been easy and economical in the past, but will not serve the needs of the future - particularly when that level of resources involves sending taxpayer funds equivalent to some 8-10 full time employees to another county with no long-term benefit.
Steve A Varela