Township Fire District Board Votes To Raise Levy
After some hesitancy and much deliberation, the Saugatuck Township Fire District Board at Tuesday’s meeting unanimously voted to raise the fire levy on local taxpayers from 1.16 to 1.3 mills, citing the need to “balance the budget.”
The millage increase will only go into effect if approved by the three communities the Saugatuck Township Fire District serves: the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas and Saugatuck Township.
The budget will go before each respective governmental unit for approval at their next meeting in May.
“It’s expensive,” said Saugatuck City Treasurer Peter Stanislawski, who assists the board in its budget and financing, about operating a fire department with increasing expenditures and a local real property taxable value that has remained flat the last five years.
The millage proposal means a $14 increase for a total of up to $130 for every $100,000 of taxable value. The hike is estimated to raise more than the $638,000.
Stanislawski, in his “draft budget,” told the board it was needed to run the department and have a balanced budget, revenues equaling expenses.
With a fire chief, three full-time staff members and 30 paid on-call firefighters, 65 percent of the budget is linked to wages and benefits, said Stanislawski.
One of the looming issues with the fire budget is the lack of a capital improvement plan, something the board said would need to be addressed by the new fire chief the board is in the process of hiring.
The last three fiscal years, the fire millage rate has been 1.16 or less. If the new rate is approved, the rate will be similar to what it was between fiscal years 2006/07 through 2008/09 at 1.29. Back in 2000/2001, the millage rate was 1.80.
The fire board’s hesitancy in their decision Tuesday stemmed from concerns the local electorate is already faced with millage renewals and increases from different entities.
The local school district, for example, will be asking voters in May to renew an operational and a recreational millage as well increase millage for educational technology and school buses.
The harbor authority may also request voters to approve taxes to fund part of a $2 million emergency dredging project and Allegan County may request funding for a $10 million radio dispatch system.
In discussion about where the department may cut costs, the board had some difference on whether the big, 40-foot coast guard utility boat, used as rescue boat, was worth the $4,000 the department spends per year to maintain and store it.
Some said they did not see the value in keeping the boat, citing it was rarely used (mostly for rescue operations when it is used), while others said it was fitting for a lakeshore community to have although some conceded the boat was not as versatile and as useful as what an appropriate fire-rescue vessel would offer.