since the township is without a fire chief, would now be a good time to consider consolidating departments?

A fews days ago I put this question to a reader of this site who seems knowledgeable as to the inner workings of the City and Township fire departments. Following is his response:

Mark, I’d like to address a local topic that pops up every so often, but is in the news right now. Recently, the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees voted to authorize the three administrators to explore Fire Chief sharing duties with adjoining agencies. What they mean is that Ypsilanti Township and another department (Ypsi City, Superior, Augusta, etc…) would “share” a Fire Chief, splitting the cost between the two communities.

Before we get to the question you asked me, namely, “is this an opportunity to bring the two departments (Ypsi City and Ypsi Twp) together under one Chief”, I’d like to look at some other things. I’ll come back to consolidation of departments at the end.

Currently, the City has Jon Ichesco in charge, and the Township is in the process of deciding what to do. The last Township Chief resigned and returned to Florida. He was a big advocate of Fire Districting, Consolidated Dispatch, Automatic Mutual Aid agreements, and basically forming departments based on need and not necessarily political boundary. He saw the need for more firefighters at emergency scenes and was trying to move the board of Trustees in that direction.

The Township gave a Chief’s test and there were two successful candidates. Act 78, the Civil Service Laws says that number one must be offered the position. I don’t know where they are on that. In the meantime, the Township Board authorized Trustee and ex-YPD Stan Eldridge to be interim Fire Commissioner for 16 weeks. He was given a list of duties and is being paid $500.00 a week. He is to oversee the overtime at the department, attend County Fire meetings, implement a fire survey program, and deal with dispatch issues regarding HVA. This came as a surprise to the Township Firefighters, who, naturally did not want an ex-cop overseeing any part of their operations, any more than PD would want a Firefighter with no Police Experience overseeing a Police Department or any part of their operations.

So right now, my understanding is that labor relations are strained at our neighbors house.

Now back to your question. I don’t believe that a Chief could effectively serve two communities. A “sharing” plan won’t work. Demands on a Fire Chief are heavy. There are so many regulations, standards, budgeting, operational issues, and safety laws that he has to follow and be responsible for, that it would not all get done, in both communities. I hear Jon Ichesco is not enamored with the idea.

Is this the time for a consolidation? Based on my conversations with some of the YTFD guys, there is no will to “go along” right now with the current state of relations. I also would find it hard for the current township board to promote the idea, after running so strongly against any merger or service sharing with the City in their election campaign. The used it in their signs, if you remember.

Regards,
Elvis Costello

So, where do we go from here?

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34 Comments

  1. designatedrepublican
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Check this out: http://blog.mlive.com/annarbornews/2008/01/ann_arborypsilanti_fire_distri.html

    Our new Township Supervisor might have to be dragged into such a cooperative arrangement, but if other communities put something together, she would be under a great deal of pressure to do so.

  2. EOS
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Yeah, right. The township needs to consolidate with the city so that we can share the fire engine that doesn’t fit into the fire station and has been non-functional more often than it has been operational. Will you let us pay for fire service to EMU without sufficient state reimbursement? Maybe we can merge so that the city can eliminate all their staffing? Will we get to share the costs of renovating your dilapidated fire station? Sounds like a great opportunity for the township!

  3. West Cross is the Best Cross
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Always so much hate from EOS.

    Who can put out the fire…in your heart?

  4. BrianR
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    The reality of this is the Twp has more to gain from cooperating with the City than the City has from cooperating with the Twp.

    The City has has lower ISO rating than the Twp. That means lower fire insurance.

    The City has more firefighters per 1,000 people than the Twp does.

    As the Twp continues to grow south, they are going to need a 4th station and some sort of minimum staffing. A station will be seven figures, and more staffing might mean higher taxes in the Twp (gulp!).

    There are weird issues complicating this that have nothing to do with City / Twp relations. In the City, there has been a move to create a “fire district” with the City of Ann Arbor even though Mayor Hieftje is calling this proposed relationship “enhanced mutual aid.” The Twp is working through issues associated with contracting dispatch with HVA rather than having fire fighters do the dispatching.

    The shared chief issue is interesting. In the City of Ann Arbor, there are 94 employees spread across six stations. So it’s perfectly reasonable to expect one chief could manager four stations and 60 employees in the City and Twp.

    It’s certainly an idea worth exploring, but people will have a million reasons it can’t be done. (Cue the violins)

  5. elviscostello
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Just to clarify Brian’s note. HVA is dispatching for YTFD right now, and has been for about a year. Also, can there be an explanation about the Ann Arbor City/YFD Fire district? How does it make sense for Ann Arbor to plow across two communities (Pittsfield and Ypsilanti Townships) to provide mutual aid to YFD? Currently, if YFD, YTFD, Superior, PTFD or Augusta need help, they request it, and to my knowledge, none have ever been turned down. The “delay” is minimal, the Incident Commander gets to the scene, or even on the way, if warranted, and radios a request. The partner departments scramble and go to the scene.

  6. EOS
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    WCITBC-

    Why do you consider making rational economic choices with limited tax dollars to be hateful? It’s one thing to share a fire chief, but an entirely different situation to merge two departments.

  7. Curt Waugh
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Give it up EOS. Your knee-jerk reactionary divisiveness is a thing of the past. While you enclave yourself, the rest of us are going to figure out how to live and work together with less. Regionalization’s going to happen whether you like it or not. The economic realities offer us no choice. You might want to consider how to contribute positively to that process instead of sounding like a victim all the time. It’s just possible that people don’t want your damn house to burn down. Not everybody’s out to steal your money, ya know.

    We have regionalized schools, libraries, roads and utilities. It’s only a matter of time before other basic services are treated the same way.

  8. EOS
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Curt –

    Regionalization works where there is a benefit to both parties, and is best accomplished at the level of regional government, i.e. the county. You can’t make me feel guilty for the sad state of city finances. I’m not a victim – I’m an active participant in my local government, encouraging my elected officials to act in the best interests of their constituents. This is a positive contribution that will enable our fire department to continue to provide cost effective fire prevention within our jurisdiction.

    Economic realities do offer the city a choice. You can default on the Water Street loans, allow the city to go into receivership and get state oversight to use city tax revenue to provide for essential services such as fire protection rather than real estate development during an economic depression/recession.

  9. Posted January 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    EoS is afraid that his/her tax dollars will go to black people.

  10. designatedrepublican
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Personally, the likely scenario of receivership due to Water St. debt IS the reason to regionalize as many City services and properties as possible. Put the fire department into a regional system, get the City parks into county ownership, and regionalize/privatize DPW services. That way, when the receiver is appointed, all he/she can do is sell our white elephant City Hall and the DPW yard.

  11. EOS
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    DR –

    Thanks for being honest about the situation. The city is preparing for receivership and anyone with a clue who has been paying attention would realize that. Many city owned properties of value have already been given to non-profits. Realizing that very soon the tax revenues will be insufficient to fund basic services, council is spending its reserves on nonessential items like an elevator in Riverside Arts Center and a real estate agent for an environmentally contaminated site on a major road with an abundance of alternative, vacant, uncontaminated land nearby. A state appointed receiver wouldn’t let a city get away with that. Curt and Brian are being very deceptive in suggesting that the township would benefit from entanglements with the city at this point.

    What I don’t understand is why city residents would want to eliminate as many resources as possible that a receiver could use to help extricate the city from its financial distress? Do you think the state is in a position to step in with a financial bailout? Do you think that eliminating assets will attract other communities to consolidate with the city? If the city has nothing left to offer what’s the incentive? What is the likely scenario after a receiver sells your “white elephant City Hall and the DPW yard”? Do you think homeowners will be able to sell their houses and move on to other communities? Why aren’t city residents holding council’s feet to the fire over these issues?

  12. Paul Schreiber
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    EOS said earlier:
    “You can default on the Water Street loans, allow the city to go into receivership and get state oversight to use city tax revenue to provide for essential services such as fire protection…”

    EOS said just above:
    “The city is preparing for receivership and anyone with a clue who has been paying attention would realize that.”

    The city of Ypsilanti is not going into receivership. A state-appointed financial manager can’t default on the Water Street bond payments. The bond payments must be paid one of two ways: out of the city’s general fund or out of a special bond millage that the city of Ypsilanti voters approve — not a likely scenario.

    A state-appointed financial manager would do what the city is already doing — set aside general funds to cover Water Street bond payments. Currently funds are set aside for bond payments through 2011 and, as BrianR points out, the city still has more fire protection per capita than Ypsilanti Township. That’s not preparing for receivership.

    EOS said:
    “…council is spending its reserves on nonessential items like an elevator in Riverside Arts Center…”

    The Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority is loaning the Riverside Arts Center money to supplement the elevator project. No city general funds are being used.

    EOS said:
    “It’s one thing to share a fire chief, but an entirely different situation to merge two departments.”

    A functional fire district does not merge departments; it pools the resources of the municipalities together. Each municipality retains its employees and capital equipment.

    Paul Schreiber

  13. Glen S.
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    EOS: Whenever the subject comes up on this blog, I never fail to be amazed by the level of your contempt for the City of Ypsilanti, its leadership, and its residents. Is Ypsilanti struggling economically and financially? Absolutely. But why do you always seem to take such glee in our struggles and (in your imagination) our imminent demise?

    Like most communities, the City of Ypsilanti has made some wise decisions, and some poor ones. We’ve gotten some things right, and some wrong. But we are not a “failing” city, and we are certainly not preparing for “receivership.” Like a lot of older Michigan cities, we have been knocked around over the past few decades by factors as diverse as de-industrialization, the collapse of Michigan’s mental-health infrastructure, a broken state tax structure, and government policies that actively favor rural and exurban areas over core cities — and yet, we continue to be a vibrant, viable community.

    Despite what EOS would have people believe, people (many of whom could choose to live elsewhere) are still moving to Ypsilanti, and entrepreneurs are continuing to invest in new businesses here. (In fact, I’ve lived here for more than 20 years, and I don’t remember there ever being as many active storefronts downtown.) While it would be naive to say we don’t still face significant challenges … I think the reason we have not ended up like Flint, Ecorse, or Highland Park (and probably won’t) is because our residents simply won’t let that happen. In case you haven’t noticed, EOS, Ypsilanti has probably the most active, committed and passionate residents anywhere — and that counts for a lot.

    Ultimately, I agree with Curt Waugh above, who suggests the economic realities of coming recession/depression are going to force the issue of regionalization whether we want it or not. If so, isn’t it about time we finally started to put aside the 50+ years of City/Township rivalry, and begin to figure out if and how we can work together?

    Perhaps, EOS, you could help us all get started by refraining from pissing all over Ypsilanti every chance you get.

  14. EOS
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Where do I start?

    Glen and Paul were part of the inner circle who brought the city the Water Street fiasco. Their group committed future tax dollars on a real estate scheme that was poorly conceived from the get go. The former Mayor didn’t tell the city residents what the risks might be and didn’t even let the residents vote on the issue. Yet it is the residents who are left with the responsibility of making payments on the loans. That’s the reality – can’t be changed now – it’s water under the bridge. The issue is what direction do you go from here. Do you continue to follow the advice of persons who have been so obviously wrong in the past?

    It’s only people living in the city that are trying to convince us that there is some kind of city/township rivalry. It’s only people living in the city that think consolidation of city/township is inevitable. Township elected officials run as a slate on a platform that publicly states that they won’t consolidate, regionalize, or entangle township funds with the city. They will only consider mutually beneficial partnerships. I’m not pissing on the city or holding them in contempt. I merely stating the self-evident fact that pooling resources with an asset poor community with few options for future growth does not benefit the township.

    Many families in the township have lost jobs and had their homes foreclosed on. The economic reality of the current recession/depression is hitting both our communities hard. But as bad as I might feel for my homeless neighbor, consolidating our two families finances is not an option that I would ever seriously consider. I am only a paycheck or two away from foreclosure myself. I must carefully manage my finances to prepare as best I can to survive the next few years which are likely to be even worse. My neighbor might plead with me to work together with him to save his home, and he might try an emotional appeal to make me feel guilty that I still have a home, but my first priority has to be my own family.

    Despite the mayor’s claims, cities can and do default on loan payments. It happens all the time. The DDA could have used their tax payments to supplement the general fund and essential services. Instead they bought an elevator with the mayor’s blessing. And the mayor didn’t deny that city assets have been given away to non-profits.

    The city does have a few “active, committed and passionate residents. But it’s going to take a lot more to get involved to turn the city around. I’m hoping you are successful, but my own personal involvement and resources are committed to my own community. And that’s why I preach at every opportunity to inform other township residents of the advantages of avoiding entanglement with the city.

  15. Glen S.
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    “I’m hoping you are successful, but my own personal involvement and resources are committed to my own community.”

    So am I. But where we disagree is on the definition of community.

    While Ypsilanti is my home, what I consider my “community” is more complex. Ypsilanti, greater Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, metro Detroit, the Huron River watershed, the Great Lakes basin … all of us have common challenges and common interests, and we’d better start figuring out how to work together more effectively — and soon.

  16. Posted January 31, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    EoS hates Ypsilanti because there are blacks, gays and Jews there.

  17. EOS
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    There you have it. When Glen is confronted with the damage he has done to the City of Ypsilanti his response shows no remorse, no apology is given, and there is no admission that his political agenda has seriously hurt the financial futures of a large number of families. No, what we get is his vision of greater community and his desire to help the entire Great Lakes Basin in a similar fashion.

    We disagree on a lot more than just the definition of community.

  18. designatedrepublican
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Glen,

    It has been my experience that your “community” is an exclusive one, consisting of those folks who believe as you do – and punishing anyone who does not. That is at the root of far too many of the problems this city faces – problems created in the later years of Mayor Farmer’s reign by a Mayor and her crew of like-minded “community” members. Water Street failed so spectacularly not because redevelopment is a bad idea, but because the Mayor ignored advice, attacked dissenting voices, and rammed through a scheme void of business sensibilities.

  19. Ruth Ann
    Posted February 1, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    The merger is already happening. You can’t stop it.

  20. Posted February 1, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    You lose.

  21. Elvis Costello
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Mark,
    I’ve waited to see what would arise from the topic, and sadly, it appears that in a discussion such as this, the old us vs. them, Twp. vs. City dominates. How do you ever get politicians to agree when regular citizens have such disregard for each other and their communities?

  22. Curt Waugh
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I think that the basic economics of managing commodity services like police, fire, road service, libraries, etc. are easy to understand if spelled out clearly and dispassionately. Best practices exist in all these fields. Very old, well tested, undisputed best professional practices (ex: best equipment, best techniques, resource allocation, support personnel ratios, etc.). Minus politics and the petty needs of picayune individuals, it becomes clear that amortizing certain bureaucratic and physical infrastructure investments and expenses benefits BOTH parties who participate. Therein lies the crux of the problem. While all parties will benefit from regionalization, there are always certain non-participants who will present an “us vs. them” argument couched in vague economic terms. That has happened here.

    Here, the conversation quickly turned into “We all deserve to save money.” vs. “Only the city of Ypsi will benefit from this and they don’t deserve it.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There is something for everybody in regionalization. There is no loss of home rule or any such thing. Which brings up the question: When it comes to commodity public services, just what exactly are you fighting for? If you think you’re saving money by not doing it, myriad data exists to disprove your opinions. Remember, we’re not talking about merging governments (heaven forbid – ’cause dammit, we need two mayors and stuff!). We are only talking about combining simple things like telecommunications and human resources under one cost-saving umbrella.

    What comes about after you sift through the facts and passions is that the anti-regionalization folks believe they have it good in their little enclave of choice and believe that they lose something of themselves to “those horrible people” in that other place. “They” didn’t do this right. And “you” don’t know how to govern. But remember: We all save money here. By definition, this IS good governance. The pro-regionalization folks are left only with the feeling that the anti folks just want to deny anything good to the “thems” — even at their own expense. It’s that important to punish all the perceived wrongdoing. Instead, why don’t we just correct it and move on? This is an excellent step in the right direction — for everybody.

    To drive the point home about how silly this enclave mentality can get, lemme take this one step further. How many people out there think that even departments within a single government entity “regionalize” commodity purchases? See how hard this can be? It’s human nature to hoard and to punish and to distrust. By removing artificial physical barriers from regional commodity services, we can undercut some of this “foreign other” attitude between what should be friendly neighbors.

    And to the bigger point: Over time, the “us” and the “them” can change places very quickly. What might seem like some rip-off deal today might be sweet salvation in the future. To respond only to one’s immediate perceived economics is not wise. Pooling of commodities just makes sense for everybody in the very long term. It always has.

  23. maryd
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I contend it is a few noisey naysayers that are holding it all back. In effect, they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

  24. Marion
    Posted February 9, 2009 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    I would like to be the first to congratulate EOS and his/her “inner circle” on making Ypsilanti Township the worst place in the county to own a home.

    Not only have they been ripping the crime blotter headlines away from us for some time, they are now cornering the market on depressed home values.

    Before you feel bad EOS, no apologies needed, no damage done. Onward and upward! Forget sharing fire department resources. You don’t need no fucking fire department! After all, there are no fires to put out when nobody owns a home!

    (Don’t worry, a new subdivision will take care of everything.)

  25. EOS
    Posted February 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Curt –
    “What exactly am I fighting for?”

    I’m fighting to keep a millage rate that is half that of the city, so that new businesses will be attracted to the township with hopes of profitability. I’m fighting to keep my community affordable, especially since the present housing market doesn’t give many the opportunity to move if taxes rise faster than incomes. I’m fighting to reduce the future foreclosures in the township. I’m fighting for all the low income residents in the township who choose to live in the township because they couldn’t afford the high costs associated with the city. I’m fighting for my community, not against yours. I’m fighting to preserve the very economic structure that attracted me to purchase my home in the township in the first place. And most importantly, I’m fighting against the lies that merging with the city will reduce costs in the township.

  26. Curt Waugh
    Posted February 10, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Keep up the good fight, man. Sounds like that plan is working out great for the homeowners you have left.

  27. Paw
    Posted February 10, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” -George Wallace

  28. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 10, 2009 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    EOS,

    I’m fighting to preserve the very economic structure that attracted me to purchase my home in the township in the first place.

    That economic structure was based largely on the ability of the township to build new homes that were unfettered by the tax limitations of Prop A. All of those subdivisions have been subsidizing you. Now that there’s a glut of foreclosures in the township and new construction is stagnant, what are you trying to protect? Currently, your very attractive economic structure is gone.

    Unless Obama’s plan works you will very shortly have to decide whether to pay more taxes, cut services, cooperate with your neighboring jurisdictions, or move (if you can afford to do so).

  29. EOS
    Posted February 11, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    I disagree. The foreclosures are mostly a result of persons buying more house than they could afford. Greedy banks selling variable rate mortgages that quickly exceeded the homeowners ability to pay. New purchasers are buying at great prices and will assume tax payments, maintaining the current revenue base of the township. If taxes must increase in the future, the required increases will be significantly less than neighboring communities.

    The township financial picture is hopeful. We are not committed to excessive, high priced services. Government is limited and the majority prefer it that way. New subdivisions generate tax revenues to pay for the increased services they require. The slowdown in construction today does not interfere with future potential. The future economics of the township remains among the best of the State.

    Obama’s plan doesn’t have a chance in hell of working. Our standard of living will never again be as high as it has been. The stock market will not rebound until well after all the baby boomers have died. However, I do hope and pray that I’m wrong.

  30. Elvis Costello
    Posted February 11, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    EOS, I’d take exception to your statement, “New subdivisions generate tax revenues to pay for the increased services they require.” If so, why does the Fire Department run over 4000 runs with less manpower than in 1979? Why is the township down 26 positions in governmental services? Why do we still use the same dated costly police services that we have since we started? Demands for services increase, and tax revenue (limited to 10 mills) does not meet the cost of the services. Believe me, somethings gotta give.

  31. nammeroo
    Posted February 11, 2009 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    It’s actually worse than that. There are a great deal of “unfunded mandate” time bombs in those new subdivisions. Home owners associations (HOA) in new developments have taken on a number of fiscal responsibilities normally shouldered by local government, including park maintenance and security, sidewalk replacement, snowplowing, and even in some cases, road maintenance and replacement.

    Money for these activities is supposed to come through HOA dues. However, with homes dropping into foreclosure and folks simply walking away from homes that are “upside-down” in debt to value ratios, HOA dues are becoming very hard to collect. That will leave a big hole in the funding for required HOA services in a few years – a hole that local and county governments will not financially be able to fill.

  32. EOS
    Posted February 11, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Elvis – If somethings gotta give, and I’m not agreeing that it has to, maybe a good place to start is the surplus reserves in the township budget. I’m very happy with the current level of government services. Maybe your numbers are indicative of wasteful practices in the past.

    Nameroo – Check out the State mandated constitution for all chartered townships. Sidewalk and road maintenance, other than county or state roads, must be paid through special assessments to homeowners and businesses, not by HOA’s. The county plows the snow after finishing priority roads. Some HOA’s choose not to wait – their choice. Unpaid HOA dues are recovered by placing a lien on the property which must be paid up at the time of purchase.

    Assessments of properties in the new subdivisions in the township were originally made when purchase prices were at all time highs. They have been reduced by only a small fraction of what they should be if they were to reflect current market prices. In actuality, the new subdivisions still subsidize older neighborhoods where the Headlee Amendment has prevented taxable assessments to rise to current market values.

  33. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 12, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    In actuality, the new subdivisions still subsidize older neighborhoods…

    EOS, I think that was exactly the point I was trying to make (sorry for the slow response … life and all). So what happens to the older neighborhoods when the subsidies of new construction are gone? (Cuts or taxes?)

    I don’t mean this as a gotcha! because nothing is that simple, but I’m curious what your low-taxes-and-services-attracts-people take is on the school funding crisis in your community. I have very little background on the issue of school funding in the twp and would like to hear your perspective, whether or not I agree.

  34. EOS
    Posted February 13, 2009 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    The township sends its kids to schools in 4 neighboring districts: Willow Run, Ypsilanti, Lincoln, and Belleville. The schools in all 4 districts perform well below the State averages. Lincoln and Ypsilanti districts have both spent large sums of money on infrastructure upgrades recently with no apparent improvement of test scores. There’s no amount of money that will improve schools where students are unmotivated and parental involvement is minimal.

    I would encourage concerned parents to consider private schools or home school options. I would also encourage motivated students to take as many classes as possible through the Virtual University or online classes. Washtenaw Middle College seems to be a good option as well for older students. Parents are in the best position to motivate their children and provide educational experiences at home. Those who can volunteer in the public schools can also help considerably. But the worst alternative would be to reward failing schools with more funding.

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