Our thoughts on 7 millages before voters
It was bound to happen, given the huge increase in costs over the last decade or two in providing emergency services to Leelanau County residents. During that time, Leelanau County’s fractured system of fire departments and ambulance services has gone from volunteer to completely full time in some cases, and at least partially full-time in others. Only Kasson of Leelanau County’s nine townships has avoided seeking a special millage to fund fire protection.
Kasson’s first “fire” millage will go before township voters on Aug. 7, and despite the usual array of grumbling we expect it to pass. The Township Board is seeking a .75-mill property tax for three years — relatively mild, as fire millages go — to raise an estimated $64,000 annually.
On the same day Leelanau Township will be asking voters to renew a two-mill property tax for fire and rescue that will raise $770,592. And Suttons Bay and Bingham townships, which collectively have formed the county’s only “fire and rescue authority,” will be asking voters to renew a 2.3- mill fire operations property tax to bring in $894,909.
Perhaps you’re getting the feeling that continuity is lacking in the steps leading up to an ambulance pulling into most driveways in Leelanau County. A scenario has developed in which if you live on one side of a township line, a full-time crew with modern medical equipment will be attending to your needs. On the other side, not so much.
Fire millages in Solon, Centerville and Kasson
Cedar Fire and Rescue represents the main difference in coverage. If big hearts could by themselves save lives, the need for millages to pay for training, equipment and, yes, even salaries for emergency service providers would be greatly reduced. But Cedar Fire has been slow to upgrade, offering only basic life support service and lacking full-time employees at the station for long periods of time.
Change is coming slowly, which may be welcomed by property tax misers as long as their health holds out. Fire chief Dan Petoskey and affected township board supervisors have been discussing the expensive changes needed to upgrade service. We fully expect that “sticker shock” will set in once their work is concluded, as fire millage rates in Solon, Centerville, Cleveland — and yes, fire millage newcomer Kasson — could easily double, triple or increase more. Empire Township residents pay 5 mills.
In the 2012 Primary election, voters in Solon and Centerville townships will be asked to approve a millage increase of .25 mill. They are the principle townships in the Cedar Fire and Rescue department, and “rent” services to Cleveland and Kasson townships. We support the renewals. And we support Kasson’s first fire millage, even though the township spent most of a sizable fund balance appealing court decisions over gravel mining.
Our biggest complaint is not in the status quo — which will be funded by the millages sought — but in the slowness for providing a path to the future for fire protection within the four townships. To be successful, Kasson and Cleveland townships will need to become voting members of Cedar Fire and Rescue. We’ve seen little progress on that front.
We’ve never been a fan of Leelanau Township “extra voted” millages, and remain opposed. The township is seeking an increase from .46 mills to .4745 mills to run a number of operations that other townships manage to maintain through their statutory property tax. Leelanau Township levies two extra millages for what should be included as general operations — and they don’t include fire protection. Sought is funding for four years. We suggest a “no vote.”
However, we support the extra-voted millage for fire protection and ambulance service. The township fire department is seeking to reduce its property tax rate for operations from 2.2 mills to 2.0 mills through 2015.
Suttons Bay, Bingham fire
Emergency service personnel may have backed the department into a corner when voting to unionize just weeks after the townships’ joint authority’s last millage was barely approved. That was two years ago, and union negotiations continue with no contract signed.
We reluctantly support the renewal of the 2.3-mill request for three years, feeling somewhat pressured by the tenuous support for the fire authority over the years. Our suggestion to those involved in the union negotiation process is to avoid approving a contract in the next few months with retroactive pay increases, or we’ll be having this same discussion in three years.
Do you recall the aftermath of the great snowfall of 2012, when county roads were mostly open within a day or two while electricity was out for up to a week?
We support the renewal of a .5 mill property tax for two years, which will be used first to keep roads open through future snowstorms.