In Springfield Township . . . Asking for fire fund increase

BY JESSE LEMOND
Clarkston News Student Writer
Springfield Township voters will be asked to double the taxes they pay for fire protection services in the Aug. 2 election.
Up for a vote is renewal of the township’s one mill fire millage, as well as a one mill increase. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property.
Supervisor Collin Walls said the increase is needed for fire and emergency service improvements, including personnel, equipment, and operational costs, and construction of a third station in the southwestern portion of the township.
“We didn’t have a plan in the past to fund the station, where the number of calls has increased to the point where the township feels it’s warranted,” Walls said. “We cannot continue at the level of funding we have and provide the level of services we believe the residents want and deserve.”
Charles Oaks, former Springfield Township fire chief, and his wife, Marlene Oaks, oppose the millage increase.
“This is a 100 percent increase for fire tax,” Charles said. “The township hasn’t proven fire needs a full 1 mill increase. The supervisor and past fire chief were able to save money and stay within budget for many years. Now the supervisor is supporting your taxes being raised to double what it is now. We support the fire department but not a full 1 mill. This seems like the potential for living beyond their means.”
In the past two years, there has been questionable spending, including a new Chevy Suburban, purchased in 2014 for $65,000 which is currently being used as a take home vehicle for two full-time department personnel, an ambulance bought for $28,500 in 2015, and a used fire engine bought for $40,000 in 2016, totaling $133,500, he said.
Walls said these vehicles improve response time.
The millage increase would also allow 24/7 emergency coverage. Currently, firefighters are on call at home and are not able to respond as quickly as they would if they were already at the station, the supervisor said.
“The whole purpose for the tax being placed on the ballot is to improve service and reduce response time,” he said. “We didn’t have people at the station to respond in the past; we didn’t have that labor expense.”
Resident Bill Raab supports renewal of the fire millage but not the increase.
“Springfield Township’s millage request is out of line,” Raab said. “This is exactly how public entities get into uncontrolled financial spending. They tell the residents that it’s only this much per household, not that much, but in the big picture it is a ridiculous amount.”
The township will come back in November with a more realistic increase, he said.
“Stop uncontrolled spending. Make our leaders be responsible with our money,” he added.
Current funding is a struggle for the fire department, Walls said.
“The fact is, currently the fire fund is being subsidized. That started a few years ago but more specifically in 2015. This is not a long term solution,” he said.
At a budget workshop in August 2015, Treasurer Jamie Dubre said funding for the department was sufficient. However, the department has changed since then, Dubre said.
“It would not be sustainable without a millage increase. If we’re going to continue not manning our station, then this millage is OK,” she said. “Last year, yes, the funding was sufficient, but we’ve been discussing fire for a few years now, and the increase is necessary for the changes we want to make.”
The proposed millage rate would increase taxes for the average Springfield Township property owner by about $130 per year, based on an average taxable value of $130,233, according to the township.
Voters will also be asked to renew a 10-year, 1.4789 mills police millage renewal for maintaining current services.