By David Fleet
Groveland Twp.- A new direction for the township fire department will keep it local for now.
By a vote of 4-0 on Monday night the township board of trustees OK’d a plan to continue with the township fire department as is and provide assistant township fire chief Kevin Mason the latitude in implement budgetary and personnel changes. Township Treasurer David Ax was absent from Monday’s meeting with notice.
The vote comes after township homeowners were asked via a survey to consider maintaining the township fire department with two fire stations or consider merging as a 1/3 partner with NOCFA (North Oakland County Fire Authority) which currently serves nearby Holly and Rose townships.
The surveys reflected some of the issues debated to rectify a township fire department financial shortfall. Township officials say that over the last 10 to 15 years, that given a fire department budget of $1.8 million about $26,000 per year is left over after expenses. The funds are not enough to buy and replace costly fire department equipment.
A total of 1,653 surveys were mailed to township households on June 8 and returned via a self addressed stamped envelope by June 14. A total of 747 surveys (45 percent) were returned with 395 (53 percent) supporting maintaining the current two fire stations and 352 (47 percent) supporting the merger with NOCFA. There were five spoiled surveys.
“Now we look at the costs quarterly,” said Bob DePalma, township supervisor following the meeting. “The whole purpose for looking at NOFTA and other options was how do we get Groveland Township Fire Department right sized so it’s sustainable going forward? What is the right sized staff to make this work? The goal is to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible. We were not running in a negative cash flow, rather we were just not having enough cash flow.”
Currently, the township has five full time and about 45 on call firefighters.
DePalma along with Mason provided a four step plan to rectify the shortfall that will be implemented over the next few months.
The plan was a group effort that incorporated several factors, including future millage revenue given changing property values, township population and fire equipment needs.
“Sometimes the solution is not a big piece, rather a lot of little things that add up,” said DePalma.
Highlights of plan include optimization of the insurance billing return for medical runs; Scheduling the fire chief as a functioning paramedic on a regular shift; Purchasing pre-owned fire equipment at about 30 percent of the cost of new and getting the right number of personnel for the department.
“Making sure we get enough back from the insurance company when we bill can result in more revenue,” said Mason.
The proposal also includes $77,000 per year set aside from the fire department budget for equipment replacement. The funds are necessary to build up capital outlay to purchase high cost firetrucks and ambulances.
“Communities sell three year old firetrucks that may have another seven years in it,” said Mason. “It depends on the age and how much it’s used, but that equipment is out there. All the equipment requires certification every year and the pumps are tested. So, they are very reliable.”
While changes in equipment and personnel are part of the plan, fire station one and two will remain open, he added.
“No one disputes the quality of service provided by our fire department,” said DePalma. “The reality of it is we have a limited number of homes to spread the cost of running the fire department. Most communities with a department this size has two to three the population to spread it over. It’s a mathematics problem. Maybe we should just get back to taking care of our own. Keeping the cost in mind and concentrate on the township residents.”