February 13, 2016

Townships see fire department’s future differently


TWINING — Members of the Twining-Mason-Turner Fire Department and Turner Township Board spent over two years attempting to switch the fire department to a fire authority with its own governing body, but the Mason Township Board isn’t ready for the change.

“There is no (fire) authority. … We already have a contract with the fire department,” said Mason Township Supervisor Fred Heideman. “You don’t void contracts.”

Patricia Brooks, Turner Township Clerk, says if a fire authority were established, the department would be less dependent on the townships when it comes to funding, operation and applying for grants.

Brooks, who did much of the research on forming the authority, along with fire department chief David Fitzgerald, says Mason Township’s board partially funded the research and development of the authority plan ($2,500 split between the townships) and alleges that last year, Mason Township passed a motion to create the authority, 3-2.

“That was before we went and seen an attorney,” said Mason Township Trustee Harry Ziembo at a fireboard meeting on Sept. 3. “We were misinformed.”

Ziembo also echoed Heideman’s sentiments that the contract with the fire department as it currently is, set to expire in 2016, shouldn’t be voided.

Brooks, though, says in the fire authority plan, it was written that until the end of the fire department contract, Mason Township wouldn’t be responsible for any more funding than it currently is - $17,500 annually.

Turner Township, however, which passed the fire authority motion unanimously, chips in about $23,000 per year for fire services, due to its support of a fire millage.

“Turner Township has a mill and a half that comes out to roughly $23,000,” Brooks said. “It only cost the average taxpayer $42 per year.”

She alleges that without a fire department, home insurance prices on every house in the townships would be approximately $258 higher.

“I would rather pay $42 for fire protection than $258,” Brooks said, adding that without fire protection nearby, firefighters would have to come from different areas, meaning higher response times. “Fire protection would have to come from Sterling, it would have to come from Omer, it would have to come from AuGres. … It could take reasonably 20 minutes to get there.

“That’s a life.”

Fitzgerald says he, along with many firemen on the department, support the switch to an authority due to the independence an authority board has when it comes to funding and grant-application. He says that since the current fireboard was formed in 2003, the department has improved in its operation, but still struggles fiscally – its newest truck was purchased from the AuGres-Sims-Whitney Fire Department. It is a 1984 truck, purchased for $25,000.

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