2018-02-08 / Front Page

City review of dissolution prompts Twp. concerns

By Paula K. Schmidt
810-452-2647 • pschmidt@mihomepaper.com

GRAND BLANC TWP. — Following unsuccessful negotiations with the city for most of last year, the township board voted to proceed with drafting millage language and later this year to update the language of the joint funding and operations agreement for the fire department.

This in turn appears to have prompted the city, as one of their options, to look into the process of dissolving the joint agreement. The operating agreement is being re-drafted by Township Attorney David Lattie and was reviewed with City Attorney Walt Griffin and City Manager Wendy Jean-Buhrer in December, but according to city council minutes for December, the city’s requested modifications were rejected.

Those were: 1)assurance the city fire station (#1) would remain open, 2)the funds acquired in the millage would be ‘front-loaded for two years and then the millage would be reduced to .75 in the subsequent years, 3)a mediator would be called in if the city and township could not reach agreement on issues related to the fire department, and 4)agree to not use any of the fire department fund balance for future construction costs.

According to the fire commission meeting minutes for December, the city council discussed the dissolution option and the minutes indicated Griffin was directed to look into the matter and report his findings to the City Council—but Jean- Buhrer stated they were incorrect—only Nielsen and Douglas were to look into the process, not the attorney.

Additionally, Jean-Buhrer reported that at the November 28, 2017 meeting of the township board, Supervisor Scott Bennett was asked if the City did not ask voters for a 1.0 millage what would happen he was quoted as saying “A dissolution would begin”.

This was not confirmed by the meeting video, but Trustee Al Mansour did ask Bennett if the disagreement would “invoke dissolution”.

The subject was broached again at the township’s Jan. 23 meeting where Trustee Ken Thomas attempted to make a motion to have Township Attorney David Lattie look into the process of dissolution but was blocked by Trustee Joe Massey (See “Massey calls meeting to berate task force, Pg. 3).

The current half mill is supplemented by a half mill from the city’s and township’s general funds and the township board, due to lack of enough funding for new trucks, decided to ask voters for another half mil on top of that to increase funding for capital equipment and other expenses.

The city feels the funding needed is less than half a mill.

Burdette added that the funding would also be used for vehicle replacement of those which are nearing their recommended end of life.

Thomas explained as the city is smaller, their mill equates to $222,000 and he feels it is unfair for the city to object to providing another $111,000 (half mill) in funding, the lack of which could leave their citizens without fire service. He also pointed out, the half a mill the municipalities provide from their general funds would be decreased once the trucks are paid for, if no other significant expenses occur (e.g. exponential growth).

“The main point is if the millage doesn't pass, what is going to happen?” Massey asked. The group explained should the public not approve the additional half mill, the fire department might go back to an on-call volunteer fire department, which Chief Bob Burdette explained would likely result in doubling the response time for fire calls.

If the township’s proposed millage passes, the city will be on the hook for preparing their own millage or paying for fire service in some other way. The township is the legal employer of the current fire department staff.

Massey was corrected for several misstatements of fact during the meeting, including a statement that the millage not passing would cause “massive lay-offs”. The fire department only employs four full-time firefighters including the chief.

He then intimated the millage not passing would impact the entire township budget and staff, and was again corrected that it did not and it was explained the current half a mill doesn't end until 2019 so they would still have time to ask for the additional half in subsequent election. To avoid the cost of a special election next year, the township decided to put it to the ballot this year.

Burdette suggested an on-call department could increase the burden of responsibility of police to respond to a fire call in a way they wouldn’t have to with a full-time department. He also agreed that a full-time department saves lives, buildings, and money and helps keep other first responders safe by creating a perimeter around incidents to protect them

Clerk Lane touted that $100 a year for a $100,000 assessed taxable value home was well worth the cost of a full-time fire department with a 7-minute response time versus the 14-18 minutes for an on-call department.

The task force is expected to recommend to the board that Lattie can proceed with investigation of the dissolution process for information purposes. The vote for that will take place tonight, Feb. 8 at the 7 p.m. meeting.

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