ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — Southwest Fire Department chief Don Patnoude tells the same story all the other county fire chiefs do.

EMS runs have doubled or tripled over the last 10 years, volunteer firefighters and EMTs are difficult to find these days, and the cost of equipment has gotten too high. Imagine a fire engine that cost half a million a couple of years ago now costs $700,000

Friday,  Allen County Commissioners heard proposals to create four fire protection districts outside the city, consolidating smaller fire districts so services can be more efficient and better funded while serving the public.

The commissioners will most likely approve the plan on Dec. 16, according to Commissioner Richard Beck.

Individual fire departments that have operated in rural areas for decades are seeing their population mushroom and with that kind of prosperity comes greater demand, the chiefs said.

Better services will come at a higher cost and most of the four districts will see their county taxes increase.

The proposed Northeast Fire Protection District which will include Cedar Creek, Springfield and Scipio townships and the towns of  Grabill and Leo-Cedarville is the only one of the four newly-created fire districts that won’t see a tax rise this year, according to documents provided by Baker Tilly municipal advisors, an Indianapolis based consulting firm.

Becoming a fire district rather than a territory allows the district more control over its finances and in particular, prevents the city of Fort Wayne from accessing tax revenues set aside for the districts if the city is able to annex any territory, the chiefs said.

The Southwest Allen County Fire District Chief will expand to take in Marion Township. The district currently is comprised of Lafayette, Wayne and Pleasant Townships, all  unincorporated and the town of Zanesville.

The consolidation will allow the district to establish a paramedic program to cover all four townships, Patnoude said.  Currently there are no paramedics and the district relies on Three Rivers Ambulance Authority “which has its own staffing issues,” he added.

With the new funding and organization, Southwest intends to employ 10 full-time paramedics and add 10 full time firefighters for a total of 19. The district also relies on 20 volunteers and 20 part-time firefighters, Patnoude said.

The added employees will most certainly help with the runs that have nearly quadrupled in 10 years from around 600 to 700 in 2010 to 2,300 this year, Patnoude said. Response time when the departments are staffed is about 7 minutes, but when unstaffed, can take up to  16 minutes, with some at 25 minutes, he added.

Patnoude, who’s been the fire chief since 1989,  says his district’s population is difficult to estimate because there’s so much industrial – General Motors, Vera Bradley, General Mills and the new Walmart facility. But there are new residential developments planned as well as the IU medical health facility.

Taxes in the new Southwest District will increase between 3.1% and 3.6% in the current municipal entities but will rise 12.5% in Marion Township, which is currently an all-volunteer department. Taxes in Marion Township are estimated to jump $63 per year for a home assessed at $100,000 to $304 for one assessed at $300,000, according to Baker Tilly documents.

The Northwest Fire Protection District encompasses the unincorporated Perry Township, Eel River Township and Huntertown. It will join with Washington Township.

Taxes there will increase between 7.8% to 9.5%. In Eel River Township where the tax rate is 9.5%, the bump will be $51 per year for a home assessed at $100,000 to $246 for one assessed at $300,000.

And in the proposed West Central Fire District that includes Aboite and Lake Townships, fire district tax will increase 13% in Aboite and 14.1% in Lake Township. That means homes assessed at $100,000 will see a jump of $64 and $76 per year; homes assessed at $300,000, $309 and $369, the documents say.

If the commissioners approve the plan on Dec. 16, the levy will be imposed on Jan. 1, 2023, but won’t be collected until 2024, according to Jeffrey M. Bellamy, an attorney at Thrasher Buschmann & Voelkel in Indianapolis. Bellamy was hired to consult with the commissioners and fire districts and appeared at the Friday meeting.

Paige Sansone, Baker Tilly partner, who also appeared at the meeting said fire districts are normally funded through property taxes, vehicle excise tax, local option income tax and EMS revenue. Newly established district can request an increase to a current property tax levy. Property taxes are assessed equally throughout the fire district.