By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
East Jordan City Commissioners spent the better part of the Tuesday April 17, meeting discussing the 2012-2013 budget – specifically emergency services funding.
The two most vocal commissioners were Tony Cutler and Thomas Breakey, who verbally jousted over funding for EMS and fire personnel.
Cutler gave the commission an update on the city’s budget process. Among changes in this year’s budget include a drop in water rates and a reduction in the fire chief’s proposed stipend by $5,000 down from $10,000.
Commissioner Thomas Breakey asked why the chief was getting a pay cut.
Cutler said the pay was comparable to Boyne City’s fire chief.
Breakey said Charlevoix’s fire chief is paid much more.
Cutler said Charlevoix’s chief holds several job titles and more duties for the amount of pay he receives.
“When you take the budget that we have, the city’s portion of that budget is approximately 19 percent which is somewhere right now right around $31,000. The city used to pay upwards of about $60,000 and we’re arguing over $5,000?” Breakey said.
Of the $167,000 budget Breakey said the surrounding townships are absorbing all of that except the $31,000.
Cutler said the budget committee did not see the need for a part-time fire chief – instead the chief works on an “on-call” basis.”
“I hope that this gets put out to the people in our districts the 150 square miles and approximately 9,000 people that we’re cutting back on our emergency service,” Breakey said. “You don’t think it’s warranted. You don’t think it’s needed.”
Cutler said the city is not reducing spending from year to year, but instead looking to cut a proposed increase.
“We are not cutting fire services at all,” Cutler said. “We are not cutting the chief or cutting personnel.”
Commissioners discussed the possibility of a future discussion on the possibility of levying a fire authority millage to help fund the fire department.
Cutler and Breakey discussed the EMS director’s pay.
Cutler said the proposed budget does not provide for additional overtime pay for the EMS director or pay increases for EMS personnel.
Breakey expressed concern that there are times where the EMS director is the only person available to respond to an emergency and that he may not be compensated for overtime runs.
Currently zero city tax dollars are used to fund the East Jordan EMS.
“We’re going to dictate how much the different ones are going to get paid?” Breakey said. “You talked here awhile back about $19 people … we’ve got $19 cops riding around and $19 people sitting on lawnmowers and we’ve got a $14 paramedic sitting out there making runs and saving lives.”
Cutler said a pay increase is planned for the EMS director.
Breakey said the planned increase is not what the director was promised.
“We have emergency services that are getting gutted by you and your committee,” Breakey said. “I don’t like it and there are other people who don’t like it.”
The commission accepted the budget committee’s proposal with Breakey as the lone “nay” vote.
The mayor called for a committee of the whole meeting to be scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday April 25, to hash out the issues relating to the budget, which must be approved by May 1.
Other business items included:
Waterways Grant proposal – This grant will likely be approved with a 50 percent local match. This project would begin later this fall and includes improvements to the East Jordan City Marina.
Motion to approve the grant passed
Dredging update: The city was waiting for approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to begin dredging. The city’s permit is good until 2017. A combination of low water and silt have made it necessary to do more dredging so boats can go in and out of the city’s marina. Commissioners approved $70,000 in general fund monies to cover the cost of the proposed dredging project.
Appointment – Dan Bennett requested to be appointed to the parks and recreation advisory board. The motion was approved. The board will meet at 4 p.m. on April 25.
East Jordan City Attorney Scott Beatty updated commissioners on the Spartan Stores’ appeal on their real property tax assessment for 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“We did what we should with the Michigan Tax Tribunal. The Spartan Stores did not do what they should do for the tax tribunal. There are disclosures, requirements, etc. … that they did not do,” Beatty said.
According to Beatty, a pretrial conference in Lansing on the matter was held in recent weeks.
“I wrote the agent for the Spartan Stores indicating that we were attending. We intended to go forward, seek whatever sanctions were available,” he said. “On the Thursday preceding the Friday that we were due in Lansing they withdrew their appeal.”
Beatty added, “So, long story short is we stepped up to the plate, we defended the appraisal.”
Beatty said the values placed on the property by the city assessor remain.
East Jordan City Commission meetings occur at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at East Jordan City Hall, 201 Main St.