2017-05-18 / Front Page

City pursues answers to fire department funding

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

GRAND BLANC — Mayor Susan Soderstrom is not ready to admit to the need for a tax increase on residents, despite numbers from the township and Fire Commission Treasurer, Karl Haiser, which indicate a millage increase is inevitable.

In pursuit of saving residents any additional financial burden, Soderstrom and the city council last week cross-examined Fire Chief Bob Burdette and Haiser trying to drill down to what the township claims is an estimated $400,000 deficit.

The city is questioning that number and discussion during the May 10 city council meeting reduced it somewhat as it includes current contributions in annually to the Capital Improvement Fund, making the deficit number closer to $165,000.

Deficit projections were arrived at using current and past expenses and appear to be a joint product of Haiser and Township Superintendent Dennis Liimatta. Haiser stated he didn’t have time to create anything in depth and recommended further analysis be done by a sub-committee to look into the details.

Although Soderstrom initially refused due a misunderstanding, she has now set up a subcommittee with herself and two council members to investigate the data. Haiser, who volunteers his time, stated no one person had the time to do a detailed analysis and also added, in his opinion, a half mill, or no increase in funding, would definitely not be enough to cover projected expenses.

During the review of the questions council members submitted to fire officials, Soderstrom was dogged in trying to obtain details.

“I’m just trying to get what the numbers are, I’m not trying to be confrontational, I just want to know where we are, what the deficit is, where we’re going… do we have this (deficit)?” Soderstrom asked. “What is that number?”

Haiser stated he feels there needs to be more research into the actual numbers and is not saying it’s wrong. “What we’re trying to ask for is some clarification of the facts so we know when we’re talking about going forward...and you say we need a mill… it needs to cover what? And if there’s not a $405,000 deficit then what do we have?” Soderstrom pressed.

The city and township met April 27th jointly to discuss the funding. “When we met for the joint meeting, I thought it was for dissemination of information only,” Soderstrom said. “There was on our part, there was a lot of information we hadn’t seen…we were in no position to handle questions about millages or anything going forward. I thought this was going to start it and have discussions. So if we seemed a little bit surprised, I think we all were; nobody had seen any of the information previously except to how much was contributed by the city and township to the fire commission.”

On the other hand, the township states they have been discussing the issue and sharing information since last year. A Freedom of Information Act request has been filed to request the specifics from both sides but will not be available for some time.

Part of the deficit is in reference to an annual allotments by both municipalities toward the purchase of vehicles and equipment, which has not been meeting the actual expenses which have increased due to technical and safety changes.

Additionally, there was some question of an alleged shortfall in the township’s funding after they calculated in legal and administrative expenses they were incurring, which had not previously been considered. Liimatta however, stated their review clearly shows they have not only paid their full contribution but have exceeded the requirement.

Questions regarding the efficacy of station one, being 46-years-old , and in the heart of the city were addressed also. Burdette stated it’s structurally holding up but it can’t accommodate an aerial truck and other large apparatus.

It was explained the aerial truck is kept at station 2 and is needed for rescues above the second floor, such as in larger apartment buildings. Burdette stated there are some areas of the city that slow runs down because traffic is so congested it has to clear for a truck on an emergency run to proceed; for example Perry and S. Saginaw.

The implication is that a station further out in the township, for primary use, would be able to get to fires outside of the city faster on less used surface streets. The proposed Tech Village at S. Saginaw and Baldwin was noted as a potential future location but is not an imminent need according to the chief— but should be considered in future financial planning.

When questioned about actual expenditures, Haiser stated he would like to employ the city’s auditor Yeo & Yeo to put together a comparison for each year and generate a report to provide the answer and explain any variances. The township, city and commission would split the cost of the report he added.

Haiser stated since he has been treasurer there was no amending of the budget based on actual expenses from year to year.

“When you came to us…you said you had a balanced budget,” Soderstrom queried. Haiser replied the budget has been balanced for the last three years, but it is based simply on predicted revenues versus expenses with no consideration of actual variances at the end of the prior year.

The fire commission receives monthly financial statements showing the information and provides these to the city and township but there appears to be no action taken regarding variances.

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