Saugatuck Township Officials Table Vote On Fire Department Budget; Fire Chief Raise Questioned
The schism between the fire department and some Saugatuck Township Board members continues to be palpable.
Although Douglas and Saugatuck cities have approved the Saugatuck Township Fire District proposed annual budget, Saugatuck Township Board last Wednesday tabled the issue.
Saugatuck Township Trustee Roy McIlwaine particularly raised issue with the fire board-recommended five percent increase to Fire Chief Greg Janik’s annual salary, questioning whether it was a “want” or a “need” to have Janik work 70 hours a week.
This despite the fact that the township’s own fire board representative— Eric Beckman and newly elected Saugatuck Township Supervisor Chris Roerig—supports the budget and Janik’s five percent salary increase, highlighting Janik’s extraordinary qualifications, his aggressive and consistent pursuit of grants to fund the many fire departments’ operational needs, projects and educational programming as well as his strong work ethic, (i.e., the not uncommon 70-hour work week.)
Furthermore, Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich accused the fire department of unnecessarily wasting funds on videographer and photographer Erin Wilkinson, a charge that Saugatuck Township Fire District Board Chair Jane Verplank unequivocally repudiated, citing the fire department uses Wilkinson’s documentation for training purposes.
The proposed 2018/2019 fire budget is based on the current 2 mills levied against taxable value. Total estimated revenues is $1.2 million, not unlike the 2017/2018 budget.
The budget must be approved by the constituent members—Douglas, Saugatuck and the township—before it is approved by the fire board in June.
“We held the millage for so long and we tried to save some money over the years. We did ourselves and the people a disservice; our equipment was getting old. I believe our chief is underpaid so this is a little bit of a catch-up,” said Beckman.
“The national COLA (cost-of-living allowance) average is 2.0 so it is above COLA (the fire board’s proposed 4.7 percent increase for the chief’s salary), but the chief (Janik) puts in between 65 to 70 hours a week. If you figure that out, that is about $20 an hour. I wouldn’t do it for that—my son makes more money than that. “
“He has a passion for what he does. I am not trying to throw anybody under the bus here, but we have a zoning administrator (Steve Kushion) here that, I believe, works 24 hours a week, makes $35 an hour on average. Our clerk (Brad Rudich), works some 40 hours, $26 an hour. Our treasurer (Lori Babinski), based on 40 hours—and I know sometimes they put in more—$24 an hour.”
Beckman continued, “Greg (Janik) has to go through a lot of schooling so I believe this township is getting a heck of a deal for $20 an hour.”
Responding to Beckman, McIlwaine said, “I hear what you are saying and know where this is coming from and I had a history on the fire board. But I have fiduciary responsibility for the township and I understand those hours, but is that a need or a want.”
McIIwaine continued, “From a fiscal responsibility, I object. I feel like, ‘Let’s get back to normal business.’ I remember when a clerk was added (the fire personnel) because the chief was spending too many hours. That didn’t seem to alleviate the issue. I feel that if the fire board feels it needs another employee, that is the solution.”
Beckman retorted, “Well, one of the things we can do is look at going back to the old salary and pay him (Janik) additional emergency response and he’ll probably make more money that way; it really would. Which way do you want to skin the cat?”
Roerig also chimed in, noting, “The reason I approved it (the five percent increase) is because we have a very highly qualified chief. He does spend—just as many of other officers do—educating himself, becoming better at what they do.”
The board voted to table the budget proposal and send it back to the fire board and ask the board to provide more information and explanation to justify Janik’s five percent increase.
As for Rudich’s charge, Wilkinson also responded, saying, “I am an employee of the fire department; I work for it on a very part-time basis, shooting fires, sometimes when there is a bad pile up, I go to that. Occasionally, I am asked to record meetings—those are the things I am paid for.”
As for other recordings, i.e. township board meetings, Wilkinson noted she does that on her own, with her own equipment, and does not get paid for it.
“Why am I here? asked Wilkinson rhetorically.
“I am here (recording the township board meeting) because when your board was asked if you would record your meetings because it is at an inconvenient time when most people cannot come, and when it was offered to be paid for, you declined to do that.”