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Voters to determine first fire mill increase

April 09, 2014 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

The Orion Township Board of Trustees approved ballot language for two separate fire millage proposals Monday night to be placed on ballots on the August 5, 2014 election.

The vote passed 6 to 0. Donni Steele was absent.

After almost a year of discussion, the Orion Township Fire Department and township board developed a one-mill proposal for a general operating fire millage beginning in December 2014, lasting for two years.

Voters will also consider a second one-mill fire capital improvement and equipment millage also beginning in December 2014 for a period of five years.  

If both millages are passed, a resident with a $50,000 taxable value home would be assessed about $100 per year.  

The general operating millage would be dedicated to hiring 12 full-time employees in order to close the 11,088 hour gap in which the four Orion fire stations were not covered in 2013.

Instead, part-time fighters remained on call, and responded to medical emergencies after driving to the station to pick up a fire truck. Out of Brandon, Oxford, Auburn Hills, Independence and Rochester Hills, Orion Township was the only community to have any uncovered hours in 2013.

The fire capital improvement and equipment millage would provide revenue for the construction of the new fire hall off of Giddings Road as well as updating equipment, some of which is 40 years old. The current aerial truck was purchased in 1974, and replacement is $1 million.

If approved and levied, both millages would generate an estimated $1.3 million each, or approximately $2.6 million. The funds could be used only by the fire department.

The Lake Orion Downtown Developmental Authority (DDA), however would capture about $30,000 per millage, or $60,000 a year, if both are passed, in accordance with state statute.

The existing 0.98 fire millage—which was originally 1 mill when it was first set in 1960—has not changed since the time of its creation. 

In 2008 the 0.98 mill generated approximately $1.8 million, where in 2013 that same millage generated about $1.3 million as a result of the decrease and increase in local property values.

"In 2007 I contributed $206, in 2013 I contributed $128. Because my housing value has gone down so much my contribution has gone down equally. Now my housing value is on the rise, but because Proposal A caps the increases, my contribution is going to go up very slowly," Township Supervisor Chris Barnett said.

Every year the township uses general fund dollars to keep the fire department going, he added.

The operation millage is set for two years, but the fire department would ask to continue it after it expires in December, 2016, to be able to maintain increased operations.

One of the key indicators is looking at our millage compared to other communities, Barnett said.

"People move to our community and expect certain things, and this is one of them, public safety. I'm confident this is something people are willing to pay for," Barnett said.

Independence Township has 32 full-time employees and assesses a 3.52 tax rate on their taxable population of about 34,681 people.  Oxford Township, with a population of 20,526, has 13 full-time employees and taxes them at a rate of 2.5 mills for their fire department.

Orion's population is most similar to Independence's at 38,367 people, and employs six full time employees. Adding 12 full time employees would guarantee immediate service 24 hours a day, 265 days a year in all four Orion stations.

"There's still a long road ahead for everybody, but I think it did warrant putting it on the ballot and asking the people whether they support it or not, we've made our case," Trustee John Steimel said.  

The township board met with fire department officials on Saturday, March 29 for a special meeting to discuss all financial options. There was discussion about going out for bonds, which would not require a vote from the people, but officials ultimately decided against it because of the additional interest and startup costs.

"The 911 calls the fire department responded to have gone up every year for the last five years," Fire Chief Robert Smith said. "It set records for call volume the last three. We are on pace to set another record this year."

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