Rural Fire Authority seeking additional operating millage.

February 15, 2021

Rural Fire Authority seeking additional operating millage.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

CUSTER — The Mason County Rural Fire Authority has asked municipalities within its jurisdiction to approve a request to put a 3/8 mill increase on the ballot for August election (this has been corrected, stating previous that this would be on the May election). The rural fire authority board has sent a letter to the boards of the 16 municipalities within its boundaries to approve the ballot language. Those municipalities include the City of Scottville, villages of Custer, Fountain, and Free Soil and the townships of Amber, Branch, Custer, Eden, Free Soil, Grant, Meade, Riverton, Sheridan, Sherman, Summit, and Victory.

“The Mason County Rural Fire Authority has completed its 2021 annual budget, which was approved at its regular board meeting on September 24, 2020,” the letter states. “For the second year in a row, it was approved with expenses exceeding revenues. The Budget Committee met on numerous occasions to review the numbers, trying to find ways to cut expenses, both on the individual department side and on the Authority side. A big part of this issue is the fact that over the last three years the Authority has gradually assumed 100% of the firefighter wages. We state this not as an expense we should not have assumed, but to help put into perspective that $120,000 in wage expense represents roughly 15% of our annual revenues.”

When the Rural Fire Authority was established in 1996, it had an unwritten agreement with the municipalities within the authority would cover the expense of wages as opposed to the authority. The Authority’s charter also called on the municipalities to retain ownership of the fire stations.

“This request for additional millage is the first time in the 25-year history of the Authority that we have reached out to you and the voters seeking an increase of our original millage.”

In 2016, voters with in the Authority approved a .5 mill increase for eight years, along with the .1 mill 10 year renewal. The .5 mill increase was dedicated to the purchase of fire engines (pumpers) and tanker trucks (tenders).

“Every year the board finds itself having to cut back on some major areas, that moving forward we are going to run out of things to cut. Our training budget is not what it should be. State and federal mandated training continues to grow. Our fire stations are in dire need of renovation. Our firefighters have not had a raise in 10 years, but the demand placed on them continues to grow. This Authority should have hired an administrator to handle the operations of each department, monitor expenses, monitor training requirements and schedules, fire reporting requirements, seek bids on most aspects of spending (insurance, equipment, training, maintenance, etc); review on a regular basis our SOPs (standard operating procedures) and develop new as needed; monitor inventories of equipment at each department. This list goes on and on. Based on the number of fire calls and the number firefighters within our seven departments, this should have been a priority three years ago, but the revenue was not there to support it.”

The 3/8 mill increase equates to $.375 for each $1,000 of taxable property value and would result in an annual increase of $18.75 or monthly of $1.56 based on a home with an assessed value of $100,000 ($50,000 taxable value). The current 1 mill generates about $800,000 a year and the 3/8 mill would generate about $175,000 based on current tax assessments. Fire authority board chairman Chuck Keller said the 1 mill’s gross was reduced by $46,000 per year because Consumers Energy won a case with the Michigan tax tribunal which lowered assessment of the Lake Winds Energy Park windmills in Riverton Township, a move he said was contradictory to Consumers’ initial pitch of the park.

“We initially thought about requested a 1/2 mill but I just don’t think we need that much,” Keller said. “This rate of 3/8 mill would help us out enough to get by. We are setting aside $75,000 each year so hopefully we won’t have to request additional mills for trucks again.”

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