Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 7, 2013

Township to charge for emergency calls?

Blair may consider billing other townships for calls to their residents


TRAVERSE CITY — Blair Township wants to start charging its neighboring townships for responding to emergency calls, a practice that's likely to spread.

Blair residents spend about $490,000 a year to maintain a fully staffed, around-the-clock fire station, but about 30 percent of emergency calls come from outside the township. About half of those calls come from Green Lake Township residents. Green Lake Township's border is right across the street from Blair's fire hall.

"We just can't afford to continue doing this," said Pat Pahl, Blair Township supervisor. "Every time those trucks roll it costs us money."

Grand Traverse County's central dispatch doesn't look at municipal boundaries when it sends out fire trucks and ambulances. Which agency responds is based on geographical boxes drawn around fire stations, and determined by the stations' capabilities and the type of call.

Townships that pay for better-staffed departments with more equipment, such as Blair and Garfield, East Bay, and Acme townships — the latter three being members of Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department — increasingly find their departments drawn upon to provide aid outside their boundaries.

Charging is an ongoing discussion at Metro, said Chuck Korn, Garfield's supervisor.

"We are doing more and more runs into other townships and the city, and we are requiring less calls into our own townships," Korn said. "Board members are concerned our townships are subsidizing the surrounding communities."

Metro provides more aid than it receives, but the disparity isn't close to Blair's problem, said Metro Fire Chief Pat Parker.

The Blair Township board will discuss how it wants to charge surrounding townships when members meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. The board will then present a proposal to the Grand Traverse Rural Fire Department board, likely later this month. The Rural Fire board oversees fire departments for neighboring Green Lake, Long Lake, and Paradise townships.

Charging seems reasonable, said Paul Biondo, chairman of the Rural Fire board and Green Lake supervisor. Charges would go both ways, with Rural Fire charging for its incursions into Blair, as well.

Rural went into Blair 13 times in 2011, while Blair made 104 runs into Rural townships, Pahl said. Under one price scenario Blair would have charged Rural Fire $12,350 for 50 runs into Green Lake.

"It's not going to be a huge amount, but at least we won't be losing money," Pahl said.

If it inks a deal with Blair, Biondo expects the Rural Fire board to look at extending charges whenever Rural Fire trucks leave their own jurisdiction to render aid.

"It's not really an offensive thing at all," Biondo said. "It's an equity thing, ... And with tighter funding you have to look at every number."