By Sheryl Oswalt
Residents from Brady and Wakeshma townships gathered in Vicksburg last month to hear a proposal to create a Special Assessment District to fund the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority (SKCFA) in their respective townships.
The proposal met with opposition, including calls to recall authority board members or disband the authority.
Prairie Ronde Township had also been expected to participate. A failure to provide notice to residents prevented it from doing so.
The purpose of the consolidated meeting was not only to share costs of holding the meeting at the Performing Arts Center but to provide residents with a consistent message. Randy Smith, Brady Township supervisor and chairman of the authority’s board, presented the need for the proposed changes in funding.
The authority has been underfunded since its inception in 1999. Additional funds will be required from member communities to continue the current level of service, according to Smith. Villages of Schoolcraft and Vicksburg as well as Schoolcraft Township have determined that they can continue to pay their portion of the cost, including the proposed increases, from general funds.
But Brady, Wakeshma and Prairie Ronde officials feel that they can no longer support the Authority out of their general funds and are looking at their options, including creation of a special assessment district.
The creation of the assessment district would mean that funds could only be spent for the purposes stated in its creation. Currently the townships are using general fund monies to pay their share of the cost, taking money away from other functions such as repairing deteriorating roads, Smith pointed out.
Wakeshma and Prairie Ronde are offered 50-50 cost share options through the county for road projects but aren’t able to take full advantage of the offering when their funds won’t stretch to the full extent of the match.
The amount collected in a special assessment would be limited to the amount needed to guarantee a balanced budget for the year. Each township would determine how it would spread the assessment: per property or based on state equalized valuation or taxable valuation.
Some residents were critical of the proposal. Resident John Stears proposed recalling the fire authority board. Another resident asked how residents could disband the authority. Others called for putting the special assessment issue before voters.
Another pointed out that funds were going to have to come from somewhere and that an election would not change that.
Craif Rolfe, attorney for Brady Township, pointed out that townships are not statutorily obligated to provide fire and rescue services.