Alpena Township Board of Trustees talks EMS fees, city contract offer

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena firefighters Ken Piper, left, and Tyler Suszek practice a ladder drill while at work on Monday. The Alpena Fire Department may soon become the primary emergency services provider for Alpena Township if the township board of trustees approved a proposed contract.

ALPENA — It is rare that contract negotiations involving municipalities take place during open meeting sessions, but that is what the Alpena Township Board of Trustees did at its meeting Monday, for the sake of full transparency.

The News reported on Friday that the board is mulling a 15-year contract with Alpena for fire and emergency response services.

The board debated what it was willing to pay the City of Alpena for emergency response services, but by doing so publicly, it may have tipped its hand to what it may accept for a high bid if the city refuses its initial offer of $387,500 a year.

Several amounts were considered, ranging from $400,000 a year on the high side to $325,000 a year on the low end.

The low amount failed when voted on.

“I just feel that amount was almost insulting,” Clerk Michele Palevich said. “I don’t want to do that.”

If approved, the proposed contract says the city would station a pair of firefighter/paramedics and an advanced life support ambulance at each station.

Currently, the city is manning the township north station until July 1, to help cover response services during an employee shortage. The new contract would see the city take full control of EMS operations in the township.

Trustee Russ Rhynard, who worked for Alpena County as the assistant prosecutor and worked with county contracts, said several times that tossing out dollar amounts in open session could cost the township some leverage if talks with the city move forward.

“It is basically showing the other side what our hand is,” he said.

During the meeting, Rhynard proposed a payment amount of $400,000 per year, but eventually the trustees decided to split the difference between two highest proposed amounts, and came up with the agreed payment proposal.

Rhynard said the city seems to prefer the payment be about $450,000, but he hopes a lower offer will be considered fair, so some of the money collected from the township fire millage can be tucked away and used for improvement of the two stations it owns and for other unexpected costs.

He said either $400,000 or $387,500 would do that.

The township has a 1.5 mill property tax that generates about $560,000 a year that is used for fire operations. The township general fund also subsidizes the department by allocating several hundred thousand dollars a year beyond what the tax brings in.

There is also a 0.65-mill, five-year tax proposal to be used for new rescue vehicles and other needed equipment.

Rhynard said if the township wanted to fully staff its department, and make it comparable to the city’s, a new millage — two-and-a-half times larger than the current operating millage — would likely be needed.

The township could extend the current $125,000 contract it has with the city for staffing the north station, but that decision needs to be made soon.

Supervisor Nathan Skibbe pledged everything would be done in the open, so citizens can see every move made.

He also reminded people that the agreement with the city is not a done deal, and all options are still under review and consideration.

“We did this in the open because that is what everyone wanted, so that is what we’re doing,” Skibbe said. “This is just one more step in the process and just one option we have on the table. The thing is we don’t know if this is on the other side’s table.”

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Skibbe said he expects a response from the city on the proposed contract soon, and if there is interest, a public session will be scheduled.

It will be in a question-and-answer format, which will allow those involved to give factual responses to address concerns.

The trustees also asked that some language in the draft contract be changed. The draft makes it appear that the deal is for 15 years, but the township wants it to be for five years, so the relationship can be reviewed.

It still would leave the door open for contract extension or an end to the deal if the township decides it is ready to try to reestablish its department again.

The township fire department has suffered from a staffing shortage and financial concerns, which caused its operations and cost to be reviewed.

The trustees are also considering rebuilding and restaffing the department. Currently, the city is providing service at the township’s north station, after signing a six-month contract to help the township through its staffing issues.

CORRECTION: The Alpena Township Board of Trustees offered $387,500 a year to contract the Alpena Fire Department for firefighting services in the township. That amount was unclear in an earlier version of this story.


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