VALPARAISO | It's back to square one for the city's fire department in its effort to create a fire territory.
Fire Chief David Nondorf thought his three-year quest to have the territory established had succeeded when the city council and the Center Township Board approved the territory legislation unanimously in March. The fire department serves the whole township, and Nondorf hoped the territory would help overcome the limits of the state's property tax caps.
When the city submitted its budget to the state Department of Local Government Finance with the fire territory included, the DLGF sent it back saying the city had not followed the proper procedures in its adoption. In publishing the public hearings, the city didn't include the tax rate and levy.
Nondorf said the state legislature changed the law to add requirements for the levy and rate to be included in the advertisements. He said a memo was sent to municipalities, but the change was not caught in the 200-page law when the city was preparing to pass the territory ordinance.
Originally, the city hoped to overcome the oversight by publishing a corrected notice and holding a new hearing later in the year, but the DLGF refused to accept that because the law states it has to be approved between Jan. 1 and April 1. Nondorf said the city will start the process over in January.
The foul-up means the fire department will be operating under the same budget in 2013 as it had this year. Even if the territory is approved a second time, the earliest it would produce a boost in property tax revenue would be the middle of 2014. While the proposed territory budget included salaries for three new firefighters, Nondorf said the delay means the department won't replace two who plan to retire this year.
The city's financial consultant, Carl Cender, is working on the new financial data so the city will be able to advertise the tax rate and levy amount as quickly as it can in 2013. The territory is governed by a five-member board, two appointed by the council, two by the township board and one by the mayor.
It was favored as a way to maintain the current level of service and was estimated to require a tax rate of 27 cents per $100 of assessed value for this year. The rate would have been an increase for township residents but might have been a slight decrease for city residents.