By Travis Smola
The South County Fire Authority presented an overview of its budget and operations to the Schoolcraft Village Council ahead of the council’s second May meeting.
Both parties have been trying to set up the presentation for a while. The meeting was spurred by a late payment by the fire authority back in January that was eventually resolved. But it did result in the council sending a letter asking for more clarity from the fire authority.
Fire Authority Treasurer Tracey Locey was on hand to give the presentation and answer questions by the trustees, mostly about the authority’s accounting practices.
Locey acknowledged there were some weaknesses in accounting practices it is trying to fix. She also attributed many of the weaknesses to the small size of the organization. Locey told the trustees that prior to 2015, the authority had not done any capital planning for future purchases, which made things awkward when a truck broke down and a replacement was needed. “It wasn’t planned for in our budget. We hadn’t been saving for it,” Locey said.
The authority was able to find the money needed for that truck. However, they then took the advice of village Manager Cheri Lutz to start planning and saving for big purchases ahead of time. Locey also said they started to do more inventory and cross-analysis of the equipment the authority used to better determine expenses and what it needs every year.
While the allocation costs to the village of Schoolcraft have gone down this year, Locey said costs of operation for the authority have stayed mostly the same in recent years. There was one year recently that was more expensive due to workman’s comp claims. Trustee Michael Rochholz wanted to know more about the claims and if they had any correlation with new training the department is doing now.
Locey explained that the claims were mostly bad luck. One was from a firefighter slipping on a patch of ice. In another incident, a firefighter was injured when a nail punctured protective gear.
The hiring of a full-time chief has been vital in cost savings. Locey said the call volume in the village is increasing every year, but with the chief monitoring calls in the station, he can call off firefighters from responding to basic medical calls where they aren’t needed. “We think that we’re better managing our manpower with that full-time chief,” Locey said.
Locey couldn’t answer all the council’s concerns at the meeting. Kathy Mastenbrook asked about the auditor’s management letter that identified a number of material weaknesses resulting in significant adjustments to account balances. Locey said she couldn’t address many of Mastenbrook’s concerns immediately, but she agreed to bring the auditor, Siegfried Crandall, into a discussion with Mastenbrook later for more clarity.
The two sides agreed to continue discussions to try to smooth out any differences going forward.