Sanilac County News

Citizens question fire, EMS millage proposal

SANILAC TWP. – Is the proposed fire and emergency services millage necessary or wasteful government spending?

Last Thursday a handful of local citizens went to the annual Sanilac Township budget review hearing to ask why there is a fire protection and emergency medical services millage on the August ballot.

The millage request is for one mill for six years to raise an estimated $154,000 the first year.

Don Morath, township resident and Port Sanilac Coordinator for Public Safety, noted the township’s $57,500 allocation already pays for 24/7 fire and emergency services through the Sanilac East Fire Authority (SEFA).

Does the board want the millage because they are planning on managing fire protection and the EMS themselves, he asked.

With a proposed $57,500 allocation for the fire retainer for next year, that would leave an annual surplus of $95,000 if the millage passes, stated Morath.

Later the board amended the fire retainer fee fund amount, raising it to $63,694 to reflect current expenses before adopting the proposed 2022- 2023 general fund budget,

“Will the township rebate the $57,500 (fire/EMS allocation) back to the taxpayers,” Morath asked.

“That implies there would be a surplus,” noted Township Supervisor Dan Kelly.

“It would probably go back to the road fund, which has been shorted,” Kelly said.

Morath also wanted to know why there was no budget for the fire millage monies.

“We have no millage as of today,” Kelly stated.

Morath asked why they weren’t going for a road millage instead.

The budget shortage is the result for the fire authority expenses, Kelly explained.

“When it began, it was in the $40,000 range, but it has ballooned to the $60,000 range,” he said.

“Because the (fire retainer) budget is short and will be short for the next six years. SEFA, which includes Sanilac and Forester townships and the Village of Port Sanilac, needs additional funding in order to be successful. At this point we have taken funds from other areas to meet SEFA,” explained Kelly.

Morath then asked if 100 percent of the new millage would go to the fire and EMS fund.

“One hundred percent of those funds would go fire and emergency services, it is required by the millage. We are requesting millage approval for one mill. However, if every single year we are allowed to levy less if the budget allows,” Kelly noted.

After the meeting, Morath explained he has seen politics involved during his years with emergency services.

“It is common practice for elected boards to look for all the things they want and to do that they have to go back to the people. Emergency services gets picked on because they believe it has the best chance of passing,” he stated.

Morath brought up the issue during the public comments section of the public hearing on the proposed Township General Fund and Water System Budgets. After answering several questions, the board noted the fire retainer millage was not part of the budget, and since it was not on the agenda they would not address it further.

The agenda stated millage questions would be responded to, however it was the property tax millage rate to support the proposed budgets that was a subject of the hearing, not the one on the August ballot.

Kelly said the board will hold a special meeting to explain the fire protection and EMS service millage well before the Aug. 2 election.