2018-08-09 / Front Page

City votes to increase fire millage

One mill proposal to be on November ballot
By Paula K. Schmidt 810-452-2647 • pschmidt@mihomepaper.com

GRAND BLANC – During the regular session of city council Aug. 8, Mayor Susan Soderstrom announced she wanted council to consider a ballot initiative for one mill to fund the fire department for ten years beginning with the Dec. 1 tax roll.

“I think we owe it to our citizens to ask them what they want to pay for fire services,” Soderstrom explained.

This increases the current millage by half, and the city also contributes a half, and she initially suggested designating a half mill being specifically allocated to vehicles and equipment.

“I propose doing this for harmony in the community at large. The city is committed to pay .5 mills out of the general fund over the duration of the millage,” Soderstrom added. “If there is any decrease (in expenditures), as the township is only committing… from zero to .5 in any year, we will return that to our citizens by lowering our tax rate. We've always been committed to our firefighters and we appreciate what they do,” she continued.

All citizens, whether city or township, pay the same amount for fire services, Soderstrom said, but the township is five times the city’s population and that is why they pay five times as much, not because the city doesn’t pay their fair share.

Councilman Jamie Weasel said he liked the idea of “give us the flexibility to move that number if we need to…if we feel that we’re overfunding the department…I think that is a significant hurdle, that if we cross that we can move toward reconciliation and…moving forward as a community.

Councilwoman Paula Nas supported Weasels motion.

“You’ve known how I felt about this all along. I think we have no choice now but to let our voters decide. I think it’s a step in the right direction and I don’t want to see the township and the city continue to battle these things out and I appreciate the fact that we’re moving forward.”

Attorney Walter Griffin helped them clarify and draft the motion, explaining the millage language couldn’t contain caveats as to how the money should be used.

This would entail the city changing the millage rate on an annual basis to compensate for the needs of the fire department at the time they approval the annual budget. Councilman John Creasey said, “I like that we’re doing this in the sense of community…what if the township decides to build a building with it...that they will own?’

Councilman Chris Douglas said they would address that in budget talks as the fire ordinance gives them the right to approve the fire commission budgets annually. This led Griffin to clarify what he termed confusion about the term ‘ordinance’.

“We have what’s known as a joint resolution between the township and the city to form the (fire) commission,” he explained. He added when that happened, each entity passed a separate, but identical, ordinance because they agreed on funding. However, the ordinance itself doesn't indicate they can't change the ordinance and it doesn't have any influence on what happens during the budget approval process.

 Griffin explained that designating money to go toward something specific was not really possible because it wouldn’t make a difference once all the money is in the same pot. In other words, they would have to rely on detailed analysis of the fire commission’s expenditures, something which both sides agree had been lacking in the prior ten-year cycle.

Creasey agreed with that. Griffin said the commission has the power to set the budget and if one entity approves it and the other denies it he couldn’t say how it would turn out because it isn’t addressed in the ordinances. “But obviously the budget could be allocated in such a manner that it wouldn’t make any difference,” Griffin said.

Douglass added he agreed with Nas about reconciliation and moving forward and added, “A lot of that hinges on kind of a change in tone. There’s a couple things I don’t really appreciate is hearing things (said) at township board meetings like ‘the city council doesn't want firefighters to have safety equipment’ or ‘the city is not paying it’s fair share’,” Douglas said.

“The city is fifteen percent of the population, we pay fifteen percent of the budget, we’re fifteen percent of the runs,” he continued. “There’s nothing about that that’s out of proportion. The issue is we just disagreed with the revenue projections…that’s the only source of the disagreement. And if we’re right that a one percent revenue growth is too pessimistic with the new millage ask, taxpayers can expect a tax refund or tax cut with the surplus.”

Douglas added he was offended people would think the city didn't care for firefighter safety and if they were to move forward he would like that recognized by the township.   

“I couldn’t agree more,” Soderstrom said. “I’m tired of hearing it and I'm tired of hearing them say incorrectly they pay 90 percent when they don’t pay 90 percent…they pay 86 percent …when that’s to the case. It’s just spurious, it’s just to anger people into thinking ‘well they aren’t paying their fair share when we are paying our absolute fair share.” Douglas agreed they pay 85 percent but said they also use 85 percent of the services (83 percent per fire department tracking).

“So it’s irresponsible to mislead the public and suggest that were not paying our fair share and that we don’t care about our firefighters,” Douglas said.

Nas and other council members said they hope it will all be laid to rest now.


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