TRAVERSE CITY — The state awarded a $21,125 grant to study the possible consolidation of Traverse City and Grand Traverse Metro fire departments.
The grant will cover up to 25 percent of the estimated $60,000 to $85,000 needed to study fire department consolidation, but the applicant, Metro Fire, wants to expand the study beyond Traverse City.
The three-township authority that oversees Metro wants the study to create a template for evaluating the possible addition of other fire departments.
"The big one right now is Traverse City; they are the ones who came to us and asked us for a proposal," Metro Fire Chief Pat Parker said. "We want it to be more regional in scope, to see if there are there other parties in the area we should be working with."
The city wants to explore dismantling its more expensive department model, one staffed with all full-time union firefighters who also are paramedics. Some city commissioners believe a partnership with Metro Fire will save money. Metro Fire covers Garfield, East Bay and Acme townships in Grand Traverse County.
Metro mainly is staffed by non-union, part-time firefighters who do not have full-time job benefits. Metro relies on Munson Healthcare's North Flight ambulance service to provide paramedics and advance life support.
At first the plan was for each interested group, including North Flight, to ante a portion of the study's cost. But now Metro Fire may fund the study itself.
"Right now we're not sure because our board wants to be in the driver's seat on it," Parker said.
Authority board chairman and Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn said there's no question a Traverse City-Metro consolidation would better serve the area. The question, he said, is how to put together an agreement that would protect township residents from subsidizing the higher cost of fire protection in the older, more densely populated city.