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Interview With Fire Chief Mike Radigan About The Need For A New Fire Truck

The Eagle Harbor Volunteer Fire Department has recommended to the Township Board that a new fire truck be purchased. (See following Report On June 9th Township Board Meeting Highlights.) Your Editor interviewed Volunteer Chief Mike Radigan about this recommendation. The interview will be included in an upcoming information and opinion seeking mailing to all Township property owners from the Township Board. To read the interview, click Interview With Chief Radigan.

Report On June 9, 1997 Township Board Meeting Highlights

All members and other Township officials were present as were about twenty residents. The meeting was held in the old Eagle Harbor School, now known as the Community Hall.

The principal item of business was the request of the Volunteer Fire Department for a new fire truck. Fire Chief Mike Radigan restated the department's recommendation that the Township purchase a new truck at an estimated cost of $160,000. He stated that the Township's present equipment simply did not support the department's needs. The two existing trucks were capable of transporting only 1,000 gallons to a fire (combined), had limited pumping capacity, were unreliable, and required too many fireman to operate. The recommended truck would transport 2,500 gallons of water, had considerably more pumping capacity, and could be operated effectively by as few as three fireman ... an important consideration for a sparse and widely dispersed volunteer department.

Clerk John Clarkson reported that Michigan law allowed two alternative ways of financing fire and/or police capital improvements. Alternative one would be to seek Township voter approval of the additional tax levy (millage) necessary to pay the principal and interest on funds borrowed to finance the improvement. Under this alternative, the levy would be allocated among Township properties on the basis of their "taxable value". The second alternative would authorize the Township Board to establish a "Special Assessment District" and allocate the cost among Township properties on the basis of their "State Equalized Value" (assessed value, which for improved residential properties is approximately 50% of current market value). (Both of these values are shown on your tax statement.) The Board could establish such a district and allocate the cost accordingly, following two public hearings,each requiring notice by registered mail to all Township property owners.

Under Michigan law properties purchased or improved since December 31, 1993 have taxable values at or near their State Equalized Values, but for properties not purchased or improved since that date, the taxable value is set at the assessed value of 1993, with subsequent annual increases limited to not more than state established CPI changes (2.8% in 1996) until the property is sold or improved. Many Township properties had 1993 assessed values that were only a fraction of what they should have been due to former Township assessment practices. As a result properties of equal market value have sustantially different "taxable values", depending on when they were purchased or improved. Assessor Taylor says that some of these older properties have taxable values that are as much as 50% undervalued as a result of the Michigan law. Since the current total "taxable value" in the Township is approximately $14 million and the current total state equalized or assessed is $19 million, the difference of $5 milllion is the amount of Township property value not currently subjected to millage taxation.

Assessor Taylor had previously reported to the Board that under alternative one, a tax levy applied to "taxable value", a levy of approximately three mills for five years would be required to repay the principal and interest on a $160,000 loan at 6% interest. Under alternative two, a special assessment district with cost allocation based on State Equalized (Assessed) Value, a levy of two mills for five years would be necessary.

Several Board members said they were attracted by the increased equity in cost allocation afforded by the Special Assessment District approach, but would be reluctant to proceed with the approach unless it were first approved by a majority of voters in a special advisory election. Clerk Clarkson said that only registered voters could participate in such an election. I noted that registered voters represented only about 30% of the Township's taxable value and less than that of the assessed value, and that an election of any sort limited to registered voters would essentially exclude over 70% of property owners from the approval process. Supervisor Boggio read a letter each Board member had received from Marilynn and Keith Ehrenreich, supporting the need for improvements to fire equipment but objecting to using a tax levy based on taxable values to allocate the cost because of the inequities in the taxable values among properties. They suggested allocating the cost on an equal amount per developed parcel basis. Several others in attendance spoke to the issue, asking questions about the financing options and expressing support or opposition to each of them. Some asked about need for a truck of such high cost.

Supervisor Boggio asked Chief Radigan a series of questions about the department's proposal that he said a number of residents had posed to him. They included questions about the firefighting "mission" of the department; whether the new truck would require additions to the Fire Hall; why a less costly truck, such as the one recently purchaed by Copper Harbor, would not suffice; and, what the staffing status of the department was.

Mike responded that the mission was to protect the lives of people exposed to fire, prevent the spread of fire to adjacent property, and, if possible, extinguish the fire before major damage occurred. He said the new truck would replace one of the existing two trucks in the Fire Hall, requiring only minor modifications to the building. He said it was the department's opinion that the recent purchase by the Copper Harbor department (for about $25,000) would prove to be very inadequate in firefighting. He acknowledged that staffing the department was a continuing challenge because of the limited availability of men and women willing to undergo the long and difficult required training and the fact that most willing and able to serve were "older" (over 50) and not as physically capable as they once were. He argued that this reality of staffing was one of the principal justifications for the new truck ... it would require fewer fireman to operate, was physically less demanding to operate, and would provide a small group of first responders to a fire scene more capacity to conduct their mission.

Trustee Don Keith noted that three mills of levy against most Harbor properties would require a modest annual investment, approximately $100 per year for a home with an taxable value of $30,000 for five years, and that as a member of the department he recognized the severe limitation and risk placed on the firemen by the existing equipment, especially in rescuing people from burning structures.

Trustee Peter Van Pelt said he felt the allocation of cost method based on State Equalized Value (Assessed Value) was fairer and suggested that the Township inform all property owners that the Board had the department's proposal for a new $160,000 fire truck, and a special asessment district methid of cost allocation under consideration, and seek their opinion before engaging in the necessary public hearing process. He also suggested that the correspondence from the Township to the property owners also include an information sheet from the Fire Department explaining their need for the recommended truck. Supervisor Boggio suggested the Fire Department insert also address the questions that have been raised about the proposed truck.

Following further discussion, the Board directed that a mailing to all Township property owners as suggested By Van Pelt and Boggio be sent as early as possible. Supervisor Boggio appointed a small committee of Chief Radigan, Clerk Clarkson, and residents Marilynn Ehrenreich, Laura Anderson, and George Hite to carry out the task.

Resident John Wakeman, chairperson of the Township's Water System Committee, reported that the committee had completed drafts of water system ordinances and would be submitting them to the Township Board for approval following public hearing. He also reported that the Committee had completed its review of water usage rates and presented the Committee's recommended changes to the Board for adoption, with the effective date to be the beginning of the second quarter, April 1, 1997. The recommended water usuage rates were as follows:

1. MIMIMUM $25/Quarter $100 Annual
This covers the system fixed operating cost. Previous amount was $30/Quarter

2. USUAGE $3.50/1000 Gallons
This covers the systems variable operating costs. Previous rate was:
$0.00/First 3000 Gallons, $2.25/1000 Gallons above 3000 Gallons

3. SERVICE CALL (Turn on/Turn off) $0.00 Max 4 Calls. $20/Call Above 4 Calls
Previous charge was $20/Call

4. USER (Construction) FEE $50/Quarter
No change.

The Board adopted the recommended Water Usuage Rates.

Deputy Treasurer Ann Johnson reported that she and Cemetery Sexton Don Keith were proceeding to issue, Receipts For Purchase Of Burial Right In Pine Grove Cemetery. The receipts included a drawing showing the location of burial plot in the cemetery and were being processed in reverse order, most recent burials first since better records were available for more recent burials. In time, receipts would be issued for all burials with records in the Township files. The Board expressed its appreciation that this process was underway.

Assessor Bob Taylor informed the Board that the State of Michigan had in March enacted a new Land Division Act, regulating the splitting of land parcels and obligating local units of government, such as the Township, to adopt and enforce a Land Division Ordinance He presented the state drafted ordinance to the Board for consideration. He noted that one attorney had already advised a client property owner that Township approval was required before the owner could divide his property. The Board complied with the state mandate and adopted the Land Division Ordinance.

Supervisor Boggio reported that the old jeep fire truck had been retired by the fire department and needed to be disposed. He suggested that it be offered to the Historical as an important piece of Eagle Hrbor history. Trustee Keith reported that the Calumet Fire Museum had expressed interest in adding the truck to its display, with the proviso that the Township would retain title to the property and that either party could cancel the arrangement upon thirty days notice. The Board approved this arrangement.

Recreation Committee chairperson Barb Sickler recommended that the Township purchase an additional piece of children's play equipment for the ball park at an estimated cost of about $400. The Board approved the purchase. She also informed the Board of the upcoming 4th of July celebration plans. She urged support for the event committe chairs, especially Nancy Wakeman who was responsible fundraising and Mary Beyers who was making arrangements for food. The Board authorized a $100 Township donation to the event.

Superior Boggio reported that the Township has received a pledge of $5,000 from an ananonymous donor for the restoration of the Eagle Harbor Schoolhouse, now called th Community Hall, with the stipulation that the Township contribute a matching amount to the cost. He recommended the the Board establish an Eagle Harbor Schoolhouse Restoration Fund, with initial contributions to the fund to be the donation and matching Township investment. He reported that the Township currently had sufficient funds to make the match. The Township would seek additional contributions to the fund. The Board approved the establishment of the recommended fund, the matching $5,000 Township contribution, and the commencement of the restoration. (See following story for more information about this project.)

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