MULLETT TOWNSHIP — Negotiations between Burt Township and Mullett Township for fire protection services on the east side of Burt Township have been ongoing for the last several months, with several proposals already having been denied.
“There is no current contract. The one that we are functioning on is expired and the next nearest one was from around 2005,” said Topinabee Fire Chief Mike English. “We are doing between 40 and 50 runs a year to the east side of Burt Township. The last couple of years that we have tracked — consistently for around five years — it has been a third of our run volume.”
One of the items of contention is how much each of the townships is paying for the fire protection through the Topinabee Fire Department. Currently, residents of Mullett Township are paying 1.4735 mills annually for fire protection services, while Burt Township is paying 0.5 mills, which is split between the Pellston Fire Department and Topinabee Fire Department.
One of the township board members in Mullett Township had proposed decreasing the amount of millage levied by Mullett Township for the fire department, making it more equitable for the two townships by levying one mill each.
This could have potential negative impacts on the East Mullett Fire Department, who receives a portion of the 1.4735 mills being levied on Mullett Township taxpayers, which helps to purchase new fire trucks, air packs and other equipment used by that department.
Many townships around Cheboygan County levy around one mill for their fire departments for fire coverage. However, most townships only have one fire department to manage. Mullett Township has two, one for the east side of Mullett Lake and one for the west.
The contract between the two townships expired at the beginning of April and former members of the township board had been working toward negotiations on renewing that contract. English had participated in the first session of negotiations, to provide technical knowledge of the department, but has been excused from the subsequent meetings.
Since the negotiations were restarted after three months of being in limbo, there have been several proposals and counterproposals between the two townships, but no agreement has been reached. Mullett Township Clerk Denise Ackerman said the township board is expecting a proposal from the Burt Township board for Mullett Township’s July 12 meeting.
The two township trustees from each township are currently involved in the negotiations for the contract.
“We decided as a board that would probably be the best way to go, because there was a lot of strong personalities and we didn’t think a lot would be accomplished if we sent them all into one meeting,” said Mullett Township Treasurer Brenda Bowes.
Bowes said the most recent meeting was just over a week ago and the results from that meeting sounded promising. Another meeting was scheduled for the evening of July 9 and could potentially produce a contract for everyone to review.
Prior to the August primary election last year — when the new board members were elected to replace the entire township board — the negotiations had started on the contract between the two townships with the former board members.
There had also been discussion around the creation of a fire board, which would handle all matters pertaining to the fire department and would consist of members from both Burt and Mullett townships. This would give Burt Township equal ownership in the fire department and that township was willing to start paying more for fire protection with having some say in the operations of the fire department. However, no movement has been made on this since the new board members were seated.
If there is not an agreement reached between the two townships allowing the Topinabee Fire Department to continue to respond to calls on the east side of Burt Township, Burt Township will potentially have to find fire services coverage for the east side from another department.
There are other potential negative impacts if an agreement is not reached. For example, eight to 10 members of the Topinabee Fire Department who live on the east side of Burt Township may leave the fire department. This could potentially cause issues with response from the fire department to other fire service calls as well.
If the Topinabee Fire Department were no longer servicing the east side of Burt Township, the fire department would also no longer have access to the rescue boat purchased in partnership with the Burt Lake Preservation Association for response calls on Burt Lake.
“We’ve worked for years, hand in hand, with Burt Township and had good success,” said English.
English said his fire department is the most efficient and closest option for the fire protection on the east side of Burt Township, due to geographic location. Having the agreement in place is beneficial to both townships.
In the past, for many years, the Topinabee Fire Department had provided the protection services for Burt Township. Then, for several years, there was a disagreement between the township supervisors and Pellston Fire Department became the sole provider of fire services in Burt Township.
“During that timeframe, we still ended up responding to a lot of those runs,” said English.
The agreement between the townships was then redone in the 1990s, and has continued through the current agreement, which expired three months ago. Even though the contract has expired, the fire department is still responding to calls for service in Burt Township in good faith, with hopes the agreement gets approved soon.
Bowes said she hopes the two groups will be able to find compromise, to serve the people well and justify what they are doing.
Contact Features Writer Kortny Hahn at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @khahnCDT.