By Judy Reed
Both Solon Township and the City of Cedar Springs will vote next week on whether to commit to funding a feasibility study on ways to improve services of both fire departments, including a possible consolidation of services.
Solon Fire Chief Jeff Drake applied for and received a partial grant to fund the study. He said the study, to be done by an independent consulting service, would evaluate all aspects of the fire service delivery model in Solon Township and the City of Cedar Springs fire district proper. “This study will include alarms, training, fire prevention, fire inspection, code enforcement, building needs, apparatus and equipment inventory/needs, recruiting, duplication of equipment and services, etc. The end result will include recommendations to improve response, ability, and efficiency for our customers jointly in a cooperative manner,” explained Drake.
Cedar Springs Fire Chief Marty Fraser agrees that the study is a good idea. “I think it would be a good thing to do. We all need to make improvements,” he said, noting that some of the boundaries don’t really make sense. He used the example of Solon needing to respond to a call at 16 Mile and Northland, because it’s in Solon Township, even though the Cedar Springs Fire Department is closer.
Drake made a similar observation. “I believe this study will highlight some deficiencies that exist with our service delivery that are based on tradition and political boundary lines that quite frankly have just been chosen to be ignored in the past. I think as good stewards of the authority designated to our position, we owe it to the taxpayers to examine our delivery model and be prepared to correct any deficiencies and/or disservice to the customers.”
Both departments do automatically respond to fires in each other’s jurisdiction, but not medical calls or accidents unless aid is requested. And assistance is often needed during daytime hours, when on call firefighters are hard to come by. Drake said that’s one problem that could be addressed in the study.
“The fire service across the nation (not just locally) struggles to put enough certified firefighters on the emergency scene during weekday hours (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.),” he explained. “This study will provide recommendations for improving this fundamental function. I would anticipate this study would suggest the possibility of sharing personnel at a minimum in a cooperative manner, or even consolidation of resources. Either way the local municipality makes those decisions.”
The grant, which came from the State of Michigan, Department of Treasury, Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis, was approved for $11,750, 25 percent of the estimated feasibility study cost of $47,000. Solon Township Supervisor Bob Ellick said that he hopes that the Cedar Springs City Council will participate in helping to financially fund the study at some level. “I think it could be eye opening for the community,” said Ellick. “I think it will suggest some things that could help us give better service.”
“I find it interesting that an analysis of the Law Enforcement delivery model in the City (of Cedar Springs) was just performed and the decision was made to make a change in the interest of cost and customer service,” noted Drake. “I think this study will follow right on the coat tails of this movement.”
Drake said that the grant has language that the feasibility study will be reimbursed at 100 percent if the local unit can demonstrate that, within one year of the completion of the feasibility study, steps have been taken to consolidate services.
Drake said he has no pre-disposed desire of any particular outcome. He just thinks they owe it to taxpayers to examine what can be done better. “Why not complete an in depth analysis by a certified professional organization and examine their findings with unbiased anticipation? Answering this question is the ultimate goal of this cooperation study that these two municipalities are considering. I commend both local units for the courage to consider such a challenge,” he said.
Both boards need to submit resolutions committing to the study by December 29, 2014.