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After Emergency Budget Transfer, Wabash Trustee Still Plans To Layoff Firefighters

The Wabash Township Fire Department (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

After a combative board meeting on Tuesday over the fate of the Wabash Township fire department’s paid staff, Trustee Jennifer Teising said she still plans to lay off the department’s three paid firefighters. 

The Wabash Board approved moving $500,000 from a fund traditionally used for new equipment so that it could instead be used on firefighter salaries and benefits. But the decision on how to use those funds ultimately rests with the trustee.

In an email to the Wabash Township board Wednesday night, Teising said that the transfer did not resolve the ongoing township budget problems and she would not “move this problem down the road.” 

Trustee Teising also raised concerns that Tuesday's vote had not followed state requirements, claiming that she had not been notified about the resolution and that board members had not reached out to the State Board of Accounts.

In an email responding to the trustee, Wabash Board President Angel Valentin said that he had reached out to the SBOA to ensure the transfer made Tuesday was legal. 

A spokesperson for the State Board of Accounts confirmed that Indiana law would allow a township to transfer funds in certain circumstances, but said they could not provide a legal opinion on the matter. 

Mike Dwyer is the President of the Wabash Township Firefighters Association. He acknowledged that long term the township will have to resolve the problem of how to fund the department.

“My understanding is that in the long term as far as what we want to do going forward, 2023, 2024, etc. the tax base to support what we’ve got is not there right now,” he said.

But Dwyer said in the short term paid firefighters should be kept on.

“I’m at the point now where if pleading for their jobs is what keeps them on then that is what I’m going to do,” he said.

Dwyer said he also feels Teising is retaliating against the fire department after they took a no-confidence vote in her leadership last February. 

That vote came after Teising fired the fire department’s chief in December. 

Both the board and Teising have accused each other of creating a hostile environment. In her email Wednesday, Teising wrote that the board’s refusal to “communicate honestly” was harming “our ability to serve the community.”

“The lengths you have gone to try and pretend like this is an issue created by me is self serving for political purposes and the behavior is a disgrace,” she wrote.

In his email responding to the Trustee, Board President Angel Valentin told Teising that she “could make bold statements repeatedly about how the Board is allegedly hurting firefighters, but I will depart from my standard decorum as a Board Member to tell you that you’re projecting, and should get that checked out.”

Dwyer said he worries that all of the attention on their department will make it difficult to bring in new volunteer firefighters. 

“If I’m looking at a volunteer fire department to look at and I google ‘Wabash Township’ and that’s where I live I would probably be staying away,” he said. “I would not want to get myself involved in this if I was not already involved in it.”