2017-03-23 / Life in Leelanau

Audience members question expenses of new fire department

At Solon annual meeting
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

THE SOLON Township annual meeting was called to order Saturday at the township hall by Supervisor Jim Lautner. THE SOLON Township annual meeting was called to order Saturday at the township hall by Supervisor Jim Lautner. Fire department operations and their related costs were the center of much discussion Saturday at the Solon Township annual meeting.

An audience of nine, which included two past township supervisors and a retired fire chief, questioned the cost of operating Cedar Area Fire and Rescue, of which Solon Township is a member.

Board members have allocated $155,293 for fire and ambulance services for Cedar Area Fire and Rescue operations during the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins April 1.

Solon, Centerville, Kasson and Cleveland townships last year organized Cedar Area Fire & Rescue to serve people in each community. Previously, Solon and Centerville townships ran the Cedar Fire Department and Kasson and Cleveland contracted for service.

However, the two contractual township had no say in operations and no representative on the board governing the department.

Total expenses in the 2017-18 fire department budget are $721,474, with each member township contributing $140,114. Solon and Centerville townships will pay an additional $15,179 for future equipment purchases. Cleveland and Kasson townships will pay a little more — $16,696 — to compensate for the equipment now in use.

Historically, the department has had little to no money designated for future equipment needs.

The 2017-18 budget reflects expenses for the first full year of 24/7 Basic Life Support services.

Up until August of last year, two firefighter/EMTs staffed the firehall from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The township relied on paid volunteers during the other half of the day.

Cedar, like many local departments, lacks in volunteer numbers and was having difficulty getting manpower to respond to calls.

Over the past seven months, the new fire board has hired four new staff members and has expanded coverage to 24/7 Basic Life Support.

“It takes $55,000 per month to fund the department,” former supervisor Alex Garvin commented from the audience.

Audience members questioned whether enough was being done to collect from insurance companies for fire and ambulance calls. Some of the same people questioned the number of people dispatched to scenes and whether having two supervisors serving on the fire board presents a “conflict of interest.”

Current board members are Kasson Township Supervisor Greg Julian; Cleveland Township Supervisor Tim Stein; Dave Wurm, Centerville Township clerk; retired firefighter/ paramedic Dan Leach, Solon Township representative; and at-large appointee and retired fire chief John DePuy of Glen Arbor Township.

Solon Supervisor Jim Lautner, who chaired the annual meeting, told the audience that Solon Township now has little to say about department operations.

“They tell us what to pay and we pay it,” he said.

The fire board’s two-year budget has to be approved by all member township boards.

Township resident Ray Pleva said Solon and Centerville residents are fortune to have the fire station in their community.

“We’re so much closer than everyone else. It’s a huge benefit for us,” he said.

Lautner said those with questions about department operations should attend a meeting of the new fire board, which meets the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the fire hall.

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