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Fire protection districts are established according to the requirements of Ind. Code § 36-8-11. A fire protection district may be a single township, a combination of townships, parts of one or more townships in the same county, or all the townships in the same county. A fire protection district may also include a municipality located in more than one county. The boundaries of a fire protection district need not coincide with the boundaries of a political subdivision. This allows fire protection districts to cover areas larger than a single traditional township or municipality.
Fire protection districts are established in one of two ways. A petition filed by at least two (2) percent of landowners (with a minimum of five hundred landowners) within the proposed district, or a majority of such landowners may file a petition with the county auditor, who certifies the validity of the signatures and then files the petition with the county legislative body. In addition, a petition may be filed by a city or town under an ordinance adopted by its legislative body in each county where the city or town is located. If the legislative body determines that the petition conforms to the requirements of Ind. Code § 36-8-11, it may set a date for a public hearing on whether a fire protection district should, as a matter of public policy, be established in the area proposed in the petition. The legislative body may also prepare an ordinance or resolution to establish the district for its consideration. If the petition is dismissed because the county legislative body finds the evidence does not support it, a new petition to establish a fire protection district in essentially the same area may not be addressed to the legislative body for two years after the date of the order dismissing the original petition.
Landowners not only have the ability to petition to create a fire protection district, they also have the ability to petition against the establishment of the district. At or after the public hearing, but before adoption of an ordinance or resolution establishing the district, landowners in the district may file a petition against the establishment of the fire protection district with the legislative body according to the requirements of Ind. Code § 36-8-11-9.
Once a fire protection district is established, the legislative body appoints a board of fire trustees. Ind. Code § 36-8-11-12 requires that the trustees be qualified by knowledge and experience in matters pertaining to fire protection and related activities in the district. The powers and duties of the board of fire trustees are detailed in Ind. Code § 36-8-11-15, and include the duty to provide fire protection in a township, the ability to incur debt, and the ability to levy property taxes. The trustees are also responsible for preparing and submitting the budget and tax levies to the fiscal body of the county. The fiscal body reviews and approves the budget.
Tax levies for fire protection districts are originally established by the DLGF and the Local Government Tax Control Board based on information provided by the district. Fire protection districts are subject to the maximum levy controls.
Fire protection territories are established according to the requirements of Ind. Code § 36-8-19. The boundaries of fire protection territories may, but need not, coincide with existing political subdivisions, such as a township or group of townships. Fire protection territories may cross county lines.
To establish a fire protection territory, the legislative bodies of at least two contiguous units desiring to establish the territory must pass identical ordinances or resolutions according to the requirements of Ind. Code § 36-8-19-6. Before each resolution or ordinance is passed, however, each of the legislative bodies must hold a public hearing to receive public comment on the proposed ordinance or resolution.
One of the participating units in the fire protection territory is designated as the “provider unit.” The provider unit is responsible for providing the fire protection services within the territory. The provider unit must establish a fire protection territory fund, from which all of the expenses of the territory are paid, and also prepares the annual budget with the assistance of the other participating units. The property tax rate is based on the assessed value of the entire territory. The participating units may also agree to establish an equipment replacement fund to be used to purchase fire protection equipment, including housing, that will be used to serve the entire territory.
Important provisions that are only available to fire protection territories include the territory (provider unit) shall annually budget and levy what it needs, according to Ind. Code § 36-8-19-8. Fire protection territories established after July 31, 2001, are exempt from property tax levy controls for the first three years for which the participating unit levies a tax to support the territory according to Ind. Code §§ 6-1.1-18.5-10.5(b) and 36-8-19-8(g). The DLGF calculates a maximum levy after the third year that the fire territory is in existence using the fire territory’s third-year levy as the beginning levy. (Fire protection territories established before August 1, 2001, are exempt from tax levy controls according to Ind. Code § 6-1.1-18.5-10.5(a)).