SHIPSHEWANA — Just when it seemed that a raging dispute between the Town Council and Shipshewana’s surrounding townships over approval of a new fire protection agreement was simmering down, it has been brought back to the front burner.
Two weeks ago, town officials anticipated that representatives of Newbury, Van Buren and Clay townships would sign a revised mutual aid agreement by this past Wednesday. There appeared to be movement after a joint meeting between representatives of the town and townships.
That meeting was held after officials from all the townships complained in January about the amount of proposed fee hikes in the town’s earlier proposed contract and the council’s recent action to terminate Shipshewana’s fire contract with Newbury and Clay if they did not agree by Feb. 28. Also at issue was a decision to institute undetermined user fees.
The Shipshewana Volunteer Fire Department has been providing fire protection to the townships for many years. Without an agreement, the townships would have to rely on fire departments from Middlebury, LaGrange or even White Pigeon, Mich.
At Thursday’s Town Council meeting, Town Manager Mike Sutter announced that the latest deadline passed. Newbury and Clay townships signed the contract but changed the wording, an action that angered council members and town officials. Town attorney Kurt Bachman said that the end-around amounted to a rejection of the compromise contract.
Sutter said that the township trustees and advisory boards did not like the formula used to calculate fire charges to the townships. Those officials allegedly inserted wording that would cause surpluses to result in a “windfall” for their townships.
Upon the recommendation of Bachman, the council took three unanimous steps Thursday:
• Rejecting Newbury and Clay’s March 7 offer.
• Proposing a new contract due March 26 with a sentence added to the proposal ironed out in the joint meeting. That clause states that a credit to the townships cannot exceed $10,000. The townships could recover deficits but not surpluses.