Fire merger plans with Garden City advancing

By SHERRI KOLADE

Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — Residents may notice faster response times from firefighters if Dearborn Heights and Garden City decide to merge fire departments, a move that may take some time, Mayor Daniel Paletko said.

“We still have long way to go,” Paletko said. “No final conclusions have been reached, but we are sitting down, talking and looking at all the aspects.”

A tentative meeting is being considered for February to discuss the cities’ attorneys’ findings regarding the potential merger. Dearborn Heights and Garden City officials met a few times before to discuss the merger.

Paletko said the next step is based on the attorneys’ findings.

“All financial concerns … have to be addressed,” Paletko said. “You have different (fire department) contracts and we are not going to be able to operate a fire department under two contracts.”

During a Jan. 15 business event, Paletko spoke about the potential fire department merger and how a $43,500 state grant will “help create a solution and offer both (cities’) residents and business owners a quick response time … from fire or EMS.”

“I am looking forward to seeing what we can agree on,” Paletko said at the event.

In October, the Michigan Department of Treasury announced the grant — among others — that will reduce costs in consolidating services, according to a state press release.

Treasury officials said 32 Michigan communities, including Dearborn Heights, will receive Competitive Grant Assistance Program funding; in 2012, the state awarded $14.8 million from CGAP funds.

Gov. Rick Snyder said in the press release cities that share services benefit a great deal.

“This program has proven itself to be instrumental in helping municipalities collaborate on innovative programs and incorporate best practices,” Snyder said in the press release. “… (The) grants will continue to support the good-government goals of our state and communities as we work to be most efficient with state and local tax dollars.”

Paletko said the grant expires in September 2016 and does not require the fire departments to merge.

“The grant reimburses the cities for the purpose of studying all aspects of potentially putting the two departments together,” Paletko said. “Now that we got the grant, we need to have all the details of what we need to study outlined.”

Garden City Acting City Manager Robert Muery said Jan. 29 that initially the unions of both fire departments came together and discussed the possibility of merging.

“They brought (the idea) to the administration in both cities that encouraged further action,” Muery said. “We’ve held several meetings to discuss feasibility in various ways to accomplish this, and Dearborn Heights was instrumental in getting a grant. Garden City would not have been able to afford that and the grant has been very helpful.”

Muery said the next meeting will be scheduled as soon as both cities’ lawyers exchange information and can make recommendations.

Fire Chief Andrew Gurka said he is always interested in saving money.

“There are things that Garden City and Dearborn Heights can do together or if possible to consider a consolidation by creating a fire district,” Gurka said. “If (the district) truly saves money for both communities … I am interested in finding out more about that.”

Gurka said a fire district would be a “freestanding authority” combining both departments under one chief, who would be accountable to a board. Gurka said he is unsure of how many stations and firefighters would remain.

“Certainly there will be a meeting forthcoming to discuss the findings,” Gurka said.

Garden City Fire Department officials and fire union representatives did not return calls by press time.

      (Sherri Kolade can be reached at skolade@bewickpublications.com.)