Fire services funding may be ballot for Cooper Twp. voters

COOPER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Cooper Township Board of Trustees will meet Tuesday night to discuss a resolution that could have voters decide on whether to establish a special assessment district for emergency services.

It only deals with the fire department, which Township Supervisor Jeff Sorensen said has a few issues that need to be addressed with funding.

“I started in the fire department in 1986. A big number of calls and alarms was 100 (per year),” Sorensen said.

Since then, Cooper Township’s annual average for alarms has gone up to 750. Regardless of grant funding, Sorensen says the department needs $410,000 for day-to-day operations, which is up 78% from $230,000 five years ago.

“It needs more because we’re doing more,” Sorensen added.

He explained that drastic changes are needed for one of the department’s two homes on McKinley Street, and the age is starting to show on the gear and vehicles.

“The equipment that has to be replaced every 20 years is refurbished,” Sorensen said. “Sometimes … it probably just pays you to get a piece of new apparatus, whether it’d be a pumper, tanker, what have you.”

Combined with the regularly required NFPA and FDIC medical first responder or paramedic training for all 25 firefighters, it’s a costly endeavor for a township home to more than 11,000 people.

“This township has always been able to buy a firetruck and write a check for it. We haven’t had to go for a vote of the people. We’ve always had the money,” Sorensen said. “(But) with things that are changing now, and as the growth that Cooper (Township) has experienced and other units around us, we need to be better protected.”

Before the township board of trustees Tuesday night is a resolution that could put the matter on the ballot this May. If approved, residents will vote on a special assessment district for public services.

“At our last meeting … we all voted unanimously on a seven-member board to not do anything unless we brought it to the people,” Sorensen said. “I think that’s as transparent as you can be.”

The special assessment district acts like a millage, but it allows rate flexibility to go up or down, depending on the circumstances.

“It would give us the opportunity to start crunching those numbers, figure out what the millage rate would be for the special assessment, which being a special assessment … can be lowered or it also could be raised a little bit.”

According to Sorensen, the board is considering no more than a 2-mill rate, which comes to about $200 per year, or $17 per month, for a taxable home of $100,000.

But he stresses this is all not final, with everything depending on the board’s vote and how the voters feel.

“We want input. We want conversations. We want either support or not,” Sorensen said. “I understand. There are people out there that just can’t. It’s hard enough for them to pay their taxes now. We still have a lot of people that haven’t paid and it’s due on the 14th. It’s not because they don’t want to pay it — it’s probably because they’re having trouble paying. I get it. We get it, as a board.”

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