By BRIAN McGILLIVARY email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — 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.
Metro needs to know obstacles it would face if it adds one or more partners and Korn said it might be easier if Metro alone crafted the study.
"We are looking out for what's best for the community as a whole, and the city tends to get wrapped up in themselves," Korn said.
The city commission will consider a resolution at its meeting tonight to pledge its support and participation in the study. The resolution does not require the city to pay for the study.
City Commissioner Mike Gillman said he will support the resolution.
"We should do whatever is necessary to get the study underway because of the importance of this issue to the city and its finances," Gillman said.
City Commissioner Jody Bergman said she'll also support the study, but funding is a different question considering Metro's desire to own the study.
"I'm sure they'll ask us for money, I'm just not sure I'm ready to fund it," she said.
If the city approves the resolution, Parker said his goal is to have a consultant under contract by Sept. 1 with the study completed by year's end.