By David Fleet
Groveland Twp. — On Jan. 9, the township board of trustees voted 5-0 to retain Rich Marinucci, of the Firefighters Safety Officers Association to study the township fire department.
“It’s clear we have to know what we’re going to do going forward,” said Bob DePalma, township supervisor. “I want an objective third party with no specific objective except to look at the fire department and decide if there is something we can do differently that’s better. If not, we have to determine what we’re going to be doing with the millage.”
“We are not going to close the fire department, we’re not bankrupt, but I can’t run the fire department year after year if it consistently spends more money than it gets in,” he said. “I don’t want to ask the residents for a tax increase until I have somebody who does this for a living take an objective look at it.”
The cost of the study is $4,000.
The study is in advance of a vote on the renewal of fire department millage which expires in December 2024. The current millage is 3.5 mills which was approved by voters in 2000. A temporary fire millage hike of .44 mills was approved by the township board of trustees in 2011 due to a significant drop in property values after 2007. The millage has since been returned to 3.5 mills and had received one time boosts from Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response or SAFER Grant, American Rescue Plan Act funds and COVID money.
“Marinucci has done these studies for a number of communities,” said DePalma.
Chief Richard Marinucci has more than 47 years of experience in the fire service. He served nearly 25 years as the Fire Chief of Farmington Hills. He was also Chief of Northville Township for 7.5 years. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association.
“It comes down to what the community wants,” said Marinucci. “There’s obviously not enough funds to have a fire truck on every corner in Groveland like what New York City could afford, so therefore what risk is the community willing to take with regards to fire and EMS protection. Given the funding available I’ll determine if the township is getting the best ‘bang for the buck.’
Costs for fire trucks and ambulances have exploded over the past years more than the taxes collected have, he said.
“It’s a labor intensive business,” said Marinucci. “Fire departments require people and when you add EMS to the equation it makes it more complicated. The bulk of the citizens in a community contact with a fire department is with EMS, it’s a heart attack, auto accident or slip and fall.”
Groveland Township Fire Department issues are not new.
In 2018 the township board of trustees examined the structure of the fire department, the long term financial sustainability and the short/long term needs. At issue was finding a plan for the township fire department financial projected shortfalls.
At that time township officials reported that over the last 10 to 15 years, given a fire department budget of $1.2 million about $26,000 per year is left over after expenses. The funds were not enough to buy and replace costly fire department equipment.
Consideration in the size of the fire department is the township population that grew from 2,404 in 1960 to 6,150 in 2000, then dropped to 5,476, in 2010 but jumped to 5,912 according to the 2020 U.S. Census. The fluctuation in population can impact revenues for the township.
Other considerations included 40 percent of the township is owned by the State of Michigan or Oakland County. The property is not on the local tax rolls, rather compensation comes from state through Payment in Lieu of Taxes which is significantly less. Also, prior to the 2008 Great Recession the township was averaging 32 new homes per year. Now, for the last 10 years an average of 5.3 homes per year are constructed.
By David Fleet