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Township raises questions on firefighting merger

ALPENA TOWNSHIP — The Alpena Township Board of Trustees voted Monday to send to the Alpena Municipal Council a list of concerns about a proposed merger of the city and township fire departments.

The trustees expressed many of the same concerns the public had shared during a joint meeting of the township and city boards on Nov. 10, including worries over longer response times in the township, unmanned township fire stations, and the makeup of a task force that would oversee the entire operation.

The township will wait for a response from the city and consider its options moving forward.

Township Trustee Steve Lappan said he is worried about response times and the future of the firefighters now employed by the township. All firefighters would be city employees under the merger.

If he had his way, Lappan said, the city would continue to provide at least one 24-hour employee at each of the township’s two stations.

“I think there needs to be someone there on a 24-hour basis, and not just have to rely on on-call personnel,” Lappan said. “There are several areas on the proposed contract that lack details for me. Whatever we do, we need to keep all of this in the public’s eye.”

Supervisor Nathan Skibbe said any counterproposal from the city will be posted on the township’s website. He also said he has some questions about the plan.

“I think there are some areas that need some polishing throughout the plan,” Skibbe said.

Clerk Michele Palevich said she would never support a plan that would make people have to wait for help during a time of crisis and have their costs of insurance go up, as many expect would happen if the township lacked its own in-house fire department.

She said more talks and planning are needed to iron out residents concerns.

“I would never vote for any contract that would put our citizens in peril and give them less of a service than what they get now,” she said.

In the plan, the city and township would each have two members on an oversight task force. City Fire Chief Bill Forbush would be a non-voting member.

Township Treasurer Laura Somers said she believes the task force should have an odd number of board members to avoid split votes.

She also reminded everyone that the proposed contract is a deal that can change and be amended.

“Right now, this is a draft contract and it is a living document that can be changed right now,” Somers said. “We work for the public, and we need its input for direction in any deal.”

During discussion on the matter during the township’s videoconferenced meeting, the audio failed for about 15 minutes before being restored. There were still issues with sound, so the board voted to end public comment, but ensured those waiting to speak online that there would be more opportunities to comment at future meetings.

During public comment, several residents requested a summary of the events that led to the idea of combining departments and an explanation on the current and future finances of the township department.

Skibbe said the proper historical documents and budgets would be provided.

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