The Kokomo Fire Department is bringing back three laid-off firefighters in response to an ongoing manpower shortage, city administration officials announced Monday.

Firefighters Landon Bartley, Martin Meyers and Robert Leonard were all scheduled to return to duty Wednesday, city director of operations Randy Morris said.

“Some of it was unexpected, and some of it concerns issues we can foresee in the near future,” Morris said. “We’ve had some health issues with firefighters; there have been several unexpected illnesses within the department.”

Kokomo Fire Chief Pat O’Neill gave council members a report on the three firefighters involved in an Oct. 31 crash. O’Neill said two of the firefighters were back on duty, while the third could be off duty for some time.

The 1986 pumper engine, which was struck in the rear axle by a minivan, is expected to be a total loss, O’Neill said. He said the city is in discussions with the Center Township Trustee’s Office and the city’s liability insurance carrier about a replacement.

Morris said all three firefighters returning to work will be hired on permanently, “providing there are no other unforeseen [financial] shortfalls.”

At Monday’s meeting, city controller Jim Brannon told council members that the city is not expecting to see any of the $5.9 million in back property taxes owed by the former Chrysler LLC.

That money is part of the debt now attached to a separate entity created in the bankruptcy process, Old Carco LLC. City and county officials have been trying to negotiate at least a partial payment of the money owed by the former Chrysler for months. They’ve yet to announce any settlement.

The loss of that revenue added to the city’s financial bind, which has been made worse by the state’s property tax caps. Earlier this year, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight announced he was ending the city’s Fire Department Emergency Medical Service, and laying off 12 firefighters.

Those layoffs came on top of four previously announced firefighter layoffs. Altogether, the city has cut more than 50 full-time employees since January 2008.

In other business:

Council members approved, on first reading, a $115,000 additional appropriation to pay expenses related to the ongoing annexation battle.

About $81,000 of the expense was incurred when the city ran title searches on numerous properties targeted by the West Side Annexation.

City attorney Derek Sublette said the city ordered the title searches to help bolster its case. Remonstrators fighting the annexation have challenged the validity of several hundred remonstrance waivers, claiming many of the waivers weren’t attached to the chain of title.

The remaining $34,000 of the appropriation was for legal fees. City officials estimated Monday the city has spent close to $200,000 in legal fees in the annexation fight, although exact figures weren’t available.

A hearing on the West Side case will be at 9 a.m. Nov. 18 in Tipton Circuit Court.

• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via e-mail at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com

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