Fire merger talks provide insight, headaches

Council to vote Wednesday

By GABRIEL GOODWIN
Sunday Times Newspapers

MELVINDALE — One topic began an explosion of words between council members.

For the first time since talks of a merger between the Melvindale and Dearborn fire departments began, the Melvindale City Council discussed the agreement openly at a public meeting June 5. Talks started with the proposal of a $264,500 Competitive Grant Assistance Program grant that would essentially reimburse Dearborn for merging with Melvindale.

The council agreed the potential effects on the city could be disastrous if the parties could not agree on a merger and soon. Mayor Stacey Striz said the city’s general fund does not have the money to support the police and fire departments.

These effects were explored almost immediately. Melvindale will not receive any of the grant money from the state of Michigan, Councilman Carl Louvet said at the meeting, but if the deal falls apart then the city still would be held accountable for returning half the grant money to the state, about $132,250 that the city does not have.

Councilwoman Kalley Hess said the money from the state shouldn’t be the only focus coming from the council meeting given the merger’s value to the city was about more than just money.

The grant would be used to provide the money necessary to unify the cities’ departments, through the city of Dearborn, Fire Chief Steven Densmore clarified. He said the money would cover the necessary training, equipment, and costs to switch Melvindale’s radios to a frequency used by Dearborn.

After a heated discussion, the City Council did move to accept the grant at the meeting, while Dearborn accepted the grant a week prior at its May 28 council meeting. Melvindale Financial Director Richard Ortiz said the consolidation would provide the city with a $500,000 savings over current operating costs.

Ortiz said the city’s estimated contribution to the combined operating costs will be $1.25 million in the first year, and the costs will increase by 2.37 percent per year for the next four years. He said the $1.25 million would be used as the initial baseline for the multiplier, which would compound to account for the rise in the Consumer Price Index.

Dearborn’s operating costs are rising faster than inflation and this multiplier would account for that change, he said, and it would take several years before the operating costs would reach the city’s current level.

Essentially with the merger, Densmore said, the department could maintain and increase its staffing at the firehouse by 25 percent, and upgrade all equipment. The city’s only firehouse would not shut down, he said, it would continue to operate in an enhanced capacity because the merger provides the opportunity to have a firehouse staffed with a minimum of five firefighters.

Councilman Wheeler Marsee said he had problems with the contract, but his interests were with the city of Melvindale. Marsee said he believes the contract should benefit both parties equally and this shouldn’t be looked at as a takeover or play favor to one side or the other.

“I spoke very passionately about the problems I saw in the language of the contract because I believed it is very important to just get it right and get the agreement into terms that are advantage-neutral,” Marsee said. “Our residents aren’t held higher or lower than the residents of Dearborn and this contract should reflect that.”

He said his goal was to protect the city as much as he could because it should be seen as cooperation between two cities that just so happens to be documented on paper.

He said the disconnect between council members stemmed from the estimated 28-hour timeframe between the final contract and the start of the meeting. He said he wanted to review more of the facts and the meeting was the only time the council had to do so.

“We all did not see eye-to-eye on everything for one reason or another,” he said in reference to the irate discussion June 5. “I was not willing to move on the idea that the language and verbage was not to the best interest of the city. There are issues there that are non-negotiotable.”

After debate, the council moved to hold over its vote until after Dearborn’s June 11 council meeting. (The Dearborn Council unanimously approved the merger June 11.) The council moved to vote on the agreement at its meeting Wednesday.

(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at ggoodwin@bewickpublications.com.)

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