Millage to be sought for police, fire

Dan Everson

MARQUETTE — During the Nov. 6 election, Marquette Township residents will get the opportunity to weigh in on two proposals related to police and fire services equalling a tax increase of 1 mill.

In two separate unanimous votes Tuesday, the Marquette Township Board directed the township clerk to draft ballot language requesting .6 mill to pay for Marquette Township Fire Department apparatus replacement and .4 mill for a portion of supplemental police services provided by the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office.

A 2.5 mill special assessment currently pays for fire and emergency services operations, which would continue to fund routine repairs for existing fire trucks and other equipment, Marquette Township Manager Randy Girard said.

“The way that that works is, it’s not just an automatic levy of 2.5 mills,” Girard said. “I get together with the fire department, we calculate what is necessary, and right now we are calculating what is necessary for 2019. That comes up to a total number. That number has to be equated to a millage number.”

The township fire department fleet currently has a 1994 Pierce aerial fire truck; a 2003 brush truck; a 2005 Chevrolet three-quarter-ton EMS command vehicle; a 1999 rescue pumper; a 2004 pumper/tanker; and a three-quarter-ton utility/inspector pickup truck.

John Markes

Officials estimate it would cost nearly $1 million each to replace large pieces of equipment, such as the pumper and aerial trucks.

Trustee Dan Everson, who is also a member of the township fire department, asked if .6 mill — which, according to Marquette Township Treasurer Ernest Johnson, would garner an estimated $135,000 per year — would be enough to pay for costly fire suppression equipment.

Township Manager Randy Girard said although the money collected via the millage would not be enough to pay for the large vehicles in full, it would be a good start toward a down payment on a piece of equipment.

“Do I think it’s enough? No, I don’t think its enough,” Girard said. “(But) anything that we can start to build … would reduce our cost long term. The whole concept here is to avoid future interest payments — that is the whole idea, to minimize that interest cost going forward. I am absolutely certain we are going to have to do an installment purchase one way or the other, it’s just a matter of what the amount would be.”

The second proposed millage, at .4 mill — netting roughly $90,000 per year — would pay for nearly half of the annual contract with the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office, Girard said, which is currently funded through the township’s general fund.

“My intention when I brought this up throughout the budget process was to build back up the fund balance that we lost in the dark stores issue,” Girard said “We lost about $300,000.”

The millage, if approved, would help get the township to its target goal of having four months general operating revenue in reserve, Girard said.

“Right now we have about two months of general fund operating revenue in reserve,” Girard said. “That was my purpose for requesting a millage, would be to offset that to give the general fund back that money which would get us back to that four months.”

Putting the question on the ballot would also give the board an idea about whether residents support supplemental police coverage.

“This is something that we have talked about for a long time,” Everson said. “The public has attended many meetings and expressed their concern for the sheriff’s department extra protection, and I think this will show us if they are willing to pay for it.”

The police services contract has been in effect between the township and the sheriff’s office since 1994, and has been “relatively untouched” Girard said in a memo to the board in January, except for the provision of a dedicated township patrol vehicle in 1999 and expansion of patrol coverage from 56 hours per week to 80 hours per week effective Jan. 1, 2000.

The board approved a motion to enter into the 80-hour-per-week contract with the sheriff’s office at its Jan. 2 meeting, despite approving a 2018 budget allocation for 60 hours per week at a cost of $146,392 in December — representing an estimated cost savings of $45,000.

Girard said a sheriff’s office representative would attend the township’s second meeting in July to give an update on the budget impact of internal sheriff’s office cost-saving measures.

Trustee John Markes said keeping voters informed is key when requesting a millage.

“This whole issue on the ballot being discussed and in the paper brings the public around to being knowledgeable about an issue — that we have steps we are taking,” he said. “We have to do this.”