Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 25, 2012

Merger study to cost city

Traverse City's portion expected to be about $20,000

TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners will have to ante up cash if they want to know how much it will cost to join Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department.

A three-township authority that runs Metro Fire agreed to do a feasibility study before making a proposal to the city to provide emergency fire and rescue services.

The authority also will require the city to help pay for the study before it moves forward. The city's portion is expected to come in around $20,000, but could go up or down based on bids and a potential state grant.

"I don't see why the city commission would be reluctant to study it," said Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes. "We studied the police department and it would give them information about the benefit and non-benefit of providing our own fire service."

A deal with Metro would allow the city to eliminate its fire department in a cost-cutting move. The city has full-time staff, while Metro uses a mixture of full-time, part-time, and on-call staff.

City officials wanted a proposal from Metro prior to the study, or to work on both simultaneously.

The city's push for a quick resolution puzzled some fire authority board members, which is comprised of two elected officials from Garfield, East Bay, and Acme townships.

Board Chairman Bob Featherstone of Garfield Township called it "silly" to provide a proposal before a study.

Others concluded the city's urgency is strictly financial.

"Every day they wait they don't save any additional funds," said fire board member Beth Friend of East Bay Township.

City commissioners wanted to resolve the fire department question before they adopt the budget for a fiscal year that begins July 1. Hitting that deadline seems unlikely now.

Metro won't know about the grant for two months, and the time to bid out and complete the study would add several more months onto the process.

"I'm less than thrilled the process is going to eat up as much time as it is because we are interested in resolving it," said city Commissioner Mike Gillman. "But we don't want them to do anything they are not comfortable with."

Chuck Korn, Garfield Township supervisor and a Metro board member, said a professional, third-party review is needed to make sure the proposal is fair to the city and doesn't put the townships at financial risk.

"Otherwise, the only option is to give them a price that's high enough to protect us, but probably isn't fair to the city," Korn said.

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