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Township, village approve fire millage increase

by Susan Bromley

August 17, 2011

The Ortonville Village Council and the Brandon Township Board approved a .3 millage increase for the fire equipment and housing fund during a special joint meeting Aug. 15.

The village council approved 6-0 the motion to increase the millage rate without any stipulations. Councilmember Aileen Champion was absent. The township board approved 5-1 a motion to increase the millage rate, with zero salary increases for 2012. Trustee Cheryl Gault voted no. Trustee Dana DePalma was absent.

"I support the fire department, they do a fabulous job," said Gault. "I feel we are pushing this through without a member present (DePalma) who is adamantly against raising taxes."

"This is not final," noted Trustee Tom Stowell. "People could change their minds at the truth-in-taxation hearing."

The township board will hold a truth-in-taxation public hearing at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 19 at the township offices, 395 Mill St. Residents can voice their opinions on proposed millage rates at the hearing and during the regular meeting that follows, the board will set millage rates for the general fund, the police fund (for which an increase has also been requested, though not yet approved), library debt and the respective fire operating and equipment and housing funds.

Fire Chief Dave Kwapis said the .3 mill increase for the equipment and housing fund is necessary because of a 78 percent decrease in tax revenue since 2006 and the need to pay off debts including a loan for the M-15 property the township purchased in 2006 for a future fire department complex, and loans for a tanker and car. The fire department is also repaving the lot for fire station #1 and needs to replace the roof on that building, which is estimated to cost about $100,000. There are also concerns about aging tankers and engines which will need to be replaced in a few years at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars.

Kwapis said he has examined numerous ways to avoid raising the millage rate, including selling the property (realtors have estimated the value at just $215,000 in the current market), and selling bonds to pay off loans or extending the loans (the fees incurred would wipe out the potential savings), but sees no other choice. Consolidation of services with other area fire departments doesn't make sense, he said, because the township can't get rid of its three fire stations and apparatus.

"I'm a taxpayer and I don't like to see taxes raised either," he said. "This (rate increase) is the minimum to get by. It will add $120,000 per year."

A .3 mill increase for the fire e&h fund means a resident with a $120,000 home with a taxable value of $60,000 would pay about $18 more per year.

Council President Wayne Wills noted a special committee would be convened if the village council and township board have a disagreement regarding the millage increase.