Back to the future Township officials continue to battle residents, voters
July Update – EIGHT YEARS AFTER MOVING OUT, TOWNSHIP OFFICIALS STILL UNABLE TO DISPOSE OF THE ABANDONED PROPERTY, HAVE NOW DECIDED TO TEAR DOWN THREE OF THE FOUR VACANT BUILDINGS.
January 26, 2012 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Seven years after Plymouth officials paid $12 million to construct a combination township hall and fire station over the objections of taxpayers, a plan to disband the fire department is reportedly in place.
In August 2004, 30 residents were invited to get their first look at a site plan to construct the $12 million complex containing a 38,000 square foot, two-story building to house township offices and a new 13,500 square foot building to house the fire department, complete with a training facility and living quarters. The host for the event, and supporter of the construction, was then Township Supervisor Steve Mann, now a trustee.
This year, Mann stated at a public meeting, “Come early 2012, there are going to be changes in the fire department, and the firefighters need to get ready for that.”
But back in January of 2004, Mann formed an Advisory Committee and began moving for- ward on the new township hall and fire station construction. He assigned the head of his building division, Mark Lewis, to head up the project, and immediately sought out bids for project management. DeMattia Construction, a local Plymouth firm, was chosen as the contractor.
When residents crowded a board meeting and objected to this expenditure of tax money and voiced opposition, even threatening to try to obtain a referendum from voters, the township zoning board representative, Harry Jachym, told them, “All of the questions have been asked and they’ve been answered”
By a 4-3 vote, over residents’ strong protests, board members approved the purchase of the 9-acre property from a local car dealer for the new township facility.
Mann defended the decision to proceed without putting the issue in front of voters. He cited other projects he was involved with without voter approval; a new fire station, the DPW building and a $100 million sewer facility. “Each was built without a vote…” he said.
Mann recited the need for more space, saying the facilities didn’t reflect, “the pride we take in our community…”
“The (current) fire station does not have adequate living quarters for our firefighters who work 24 hours a day, nor do we have proper space for storing and maintaining the equipment they require. These inadequate and inefficient conditions hamper the operations…”
The one dissenting member of the board at that time, Ron Griffith, said at a board meeting, “In a few years this township board is going to come to you for a millage to pay for police and fire because it’s more saleable than millage for a hall,” he said, “It’s going to happen.”
Today, the township hall sits mostly empty with less than 30 full and part time employees. The reception desk has been conspicuously vacant. The primary use of the building appears to be the monthly board of trustees meetings, which have lately been crowded with hundreds of residents, again protesting decisions of their elected board representatives.
Today, residents are protesting a reported plan to close the fire station which serves the largest subdivision in the township and replace the professional firefighters with on-call volunteers.
A citizens group collected 4,000 signatures to place a 1-mill assessment for funding the fire department on the ballot, an effort Mann publicly called “frivolous.” The board of trustees refused to acknowledge the petitions and only placed the question on the Feb. 28 ballot after losing a court battle and being ordered to allow the residents to vote by Circuit Court Judge Wendy Baxter.
Rather than the 1-mill the petitioners requested, however, board members hiked the millage ballot question to 10 mills, a move interpreted by many as a legal, but unseemly, act by board members.
The township has not made any public announcement of plans to close the fire station and eliminate the 23-member fire department, but insiders claim there’s a covert plan fostered by Mann and township Treasurer Ron Edwards to train township police offers as public safety officers (PSO) and use them as first responders. The police officers and an Ann Arbor ambulance company would handle all the EMS calls. Residents have questioned the wisdom of spending a reported $450,000 in 2001 to train and certify all the firefighters in Advanced Life Support, and now attempt to disband the department. The board has also been questioned by residents about their refusal to accept an $880,000 two-year federal grant for fire services early this year. The plan allegedly also includes closing the north fire station, in Lake Pointe, an 850-home subdivision.
The 1-mill assessment would generate $1.6 million, more than the $900,000 fire department budget deficit projected as the City of Plymouth leaves the joint fire protection agreement with the township this month after 15 years. The city will now join Northville for fire and EMT services, a decision city officials have said was “financial.”
Township officials, including Supervisor Richard Reaume have claimed that the actual deficit in the fire department budget is going to be $2.6 million when legacy costs are calculated.
Many, like 30-year Lake Pointe resident Don Howard, fear for their safety in light of the proposed plan which allows volunteer firefighters, who are not ALS certified to live 15 miles outside the township limits.
“A cop, public safety officer trained or not, isn’t going to be able to start a trach (tracheotomy) if I need one. With my health conditions, if I have an emergency under this plan, I don’t have a chance.”