By the Times Herald (Port Huron)
---- — The idea of consolidating municipal services is a good one — and practical to boot. Like most new ideas, however, the challenge is making consolidation work.
The merger of the Port Huron and Marysville fire departments is as good an illustration as any. The concept was promising enough, but putting the merger into practice has encountered a wrinkle.
Cost savings, consolidated services' most persuasive argument, are drawing concerns. The first merger started in July with expectations that it would save Port Huron $350,000 and $120,000 for Marysville in its first year.
When Tom Konik, chief of the combined fire departments, delivered the merger's first quarter report, he said it's too early to say if the cities will see those savings. The departments' combined budget is nearly $7 million. First-quarter expenses came to $1.5 million.
If the remaining three quarters don't exceed the first quarter's costs, the cities' savings expectations should be realized.
But winter is on the way, and that usually means more fires to fight.
Officials of both cities should examine the merger's first-quarter costs, and look for ways to ensure expenses are controlled.
Marysville City Clerk Tina Weglarz believes the consolidation should be fine-tuned. She said Marysville's share of the merger is over budget, and if things don't change, the city would have to pay $120,000 from its fund balance.
Weglarz wants the departments to share more service efforts.
An obvious place to start is to allow firefighters of one city to fill in at the other city's department when the need arises.
Overtime contributed to first-quarter expenses. Sharing the services of firefighters between the cities might help.
Both city councils would have to amend the merger agreement. First they must determine if this or other possible changes are likely to work.
This amendment also requires the input of both firefighter unions. Given their concerns about layoffs, the need to ensure their voices are heard is especially vital.
What the leaders of Port Huron and Marysville should remember is the best new ideas usually need some adjustments to realize their full potential.
The merger has set a precedent. The leaders of both cities owe it to their constituents to ensure it makes the most of its potential.
-- Times Herald (Port Huron)