Local public safety leaders say the increasing number of calls for service in the western part of the county — illustrated by the nearly 80 calls received from Amazon’s facility in the first four months of the year — is putting increasing pressure on their ability to respond. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter
Local public safety leaders say the increasing number of calls for service in the western part of the county — illustrated by the nearly 80 calls received from Amazon’s facility in the first four months of the year — is putting increasing pressure on their ability to respond. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter
HANCOCK COUNTY — First-responders have received an average of nearly 20 calls per month from the location of Amazon’s new facility since the beginning of 2021, according to data provided by the county’s emergency dispatchers.

The relatively high number of calls to the facility at 4412 W. County Road 300N underscores Sheriff Brad Burkhart’s contention at recent county meetings that the Amazon facility — and other large industrial developments in the western part of Hancock County — are creating a strain on his department’s resources.

Burkhart has said that responding to calls from the facilities, which do not contribute tax revenue to public safety departments because their taxes have been abated, means his deputies have less time for patrolling other parts of the county. That will lead to longer and longer response times unless something changes, he warned.

“I think there needs to be a mechanism for that area to help public safety be able to cover those calls,” Burkhart said.

During the first four months of 2021, the Hancock County 911 Center responded to 77 calls from Amazon’s facility. The calls included a wide variety of causes, including reports of theft, welfare checks and traffic complaints. There were two reports of fires.

On 18 occasions, the 911 center responded to reports of medical problems at the facility. Those included a variety of issues: chest pains, breathing problems, convulsions and traumatic injury were among those reported.

The list of calls also included a high number of 911 misdials, in which someone had apparently called emergency services by mistake from an office phone or cell phone at the location. These calls may or may not require first-responders to be dispatched to figure out whether there is a problem. The center’s deputy director, Greg Shamblin, said receiving a high number of 911 misdials at a location where many people live or work is unfortunately not unusual.

Amazon came to Hancock County last year, building a fulfillment and distribution facility of around 660,000 square feet that employs about 1,200 people. The building is located in the Mt. Comfort Corridor tax increment financing district, meaning it pays less in taxes and that money goes toward projects that further economic development, like road improvements.

The Hancock County Council approved a 10-year tax abatement for the property, allowing Amazon to pay no local taxes on it for the first year and slowly increasing amounts over the rest of the decade.

Amazon also plans to add a second building in the county, a $30 million facility of over 500,000 square feet located on the north side of County Road 200N. That’s just one among several large developments headed to the county, including a Walmart logistics center of nearly 2 million square feet that’s also expected to employ more than 1,000 people.

County officials have discussed the impact of industrial development on local public safety agencies at several recent meetings. Burkhart is drawing attention to the matter at a time when he’s also asking for a raise for his deputies, and eventually for the money to hire more.

The Amazon facility is located in the service area of the Buck Creek Township Fire Department. Chief Dave Sutherlin said the location is one that his department spends a lot of time responding to. So far this year, his staff has spent 336 man hours responding to Amazon calls.

“We’re both experiencing an uptick in runs,” Sutherlin said of his and the sheriff’s departments.

When the fire department receives a medical call that might require transportation to a hospital, all four of Buck Creek’s on-shift personnel respond to it. Between evaluating what’s wrong and providing medical assistance and transportation, those calls can take up a lot of time, Sutherlin said.

If personnel are responding at Amazon, they may be unable to respond to another emergency. A nearby agency, which typically has to travel a longer distance to respond, is usually called to help. That happened, Sutherlin said, eight times in the month of April alone.

“Political figures in our country don’t want to listen to negative statistics,” Sutherlin said, but numbers like that mean something has to be done.

Like Burkhart, Sutherlin would like to see large companies that build major developments in Hancock County contribute more money to local public safety. Right now, fire departments must ask for that money from the county, and it has to be in the form of a request for capital funding — which doesn’t help with staffing shortages.

“I would love to see some legislation that allows us to see some money from the TIF revenue,” he said. “…We’ll be understaffed for the foreseeable future if the growth continues and we don’t get to grow with it.”

County Commissioner Marc Huber said Amazon is one example of this problem, but it shouldn’t be singled out. The issue is one that’s inherent to adding large developments in the county.

“It’s just going to keep increasing,” Huber said.

Huber wants the county government to find a way to pull funding from the county’s TIF districts to cover public safety costs. He said he does not believe the commissioners should be approving new tax abatements or TIF district developments without commitments to fund public safety.

Huber said he’d like to approve raises for sheriff’s deputies and hire more deputies, but that isn’t realistic without additional funding. He said the county shouldn’t be treating tax abatements in the same way it did before the county attracted significant development.

“The times have changed, and infrastructure has changed,” he said.

County council member Bill Bolander said the county will work to fund raises for sheriff’s deputies, but he isn’t sure yet how they will go about that. The county’s redevelopment commission could decide to use some of the money it receives from TIF districts to fund public safety, but that might result in a shortage of funding for the infrastructure improvements that serve large developments.

“It’s kind of like a giant puzzle, trying to put everything together,” Bolander said.

The Daily Reporter reached out to Amazon with a number of questions, including seeking details on the extent of its own on-site medical and security staff; in what circumstances they are trained to call 911; and whether the multibillion-dollar company has considered making voluntary payments to local public safety departments. A local representative for the company declined to respond.
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