By Jef Rietsma
Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery clarified rumors about the possible relocation of South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority from its South Main and Washington location and chastised those behind information on social media he said was exaggerated.
Not necessarily, countered council member Denny Olsen later in the meeting.
During the village Council’s Aug. 16 meeting, Mallery spent more than 10 minutes giving context to claims that he is behind a movement to evict the authority from its location at South Main and Washington.
Mallery said the issue was blown out of proportion, adding he regrets more effort wasn’t put into contacting him, and less into speculation and hearsay on Facebook postings.
“One of the downfalls of social media is when different people post, not knowing a complete story,” Mallery said. “Social media is instantaneous (and) it’s dehumanizing in that people seem quite often to extend their comments to [those] personal in nature.”
During his five-plus years with the village, Mallery said he has adopted a policy of not engaging in debate in online forums. Regarding the fire station rumors, Mallery said he sent messages to people who appeared to be spreading false information and asked they contact him directly.
Mallery then addressed the issue at hand.
“No one from the village of Vicksburg gave any notification, and specifically myself, that this fire department was going to be kicked out,” he said. “That didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen.”
He explained that the genesis of the community discussion likely stemmed from his past references to the current village office and its many shortcomings, including the fact it is not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
He said a logical step toward possibly relocating village offices is exploring spaces the municipality already owns, which explains how the fire station landed on the radar. Mallery said in the search for a new village office, not spending money and instead using space the municipality already owns is critical.
“Within this budget, we’ll be presenting to the council the exploration of looking at other options, properties, buildings accessible within our jurisdiction that could meet the needs of village hall,” he said.
Mallery then elaborated on a conversation he had earlier in August with the fire authority’s board chairman, Jason Gatlin. Mallery said Gatlin and village council member Denny Olsen confirmed the creation of a three-person exploratory committee regarding facilities.
“(Gatlin) asked me a hypothetical a few months ago – it was a short phone call – on the station at Vicksburg. We discussed it and we did talk about if this village were to move in the direction we felt, that (the fire station) would be valuable real estate,” Mallery said. “There is a formula … to determine where the station is best located (and) I’ll be a strong advocate that that station should be located in village limits, for sure.”
Mallery, who offered a sidenote in saying the village’s 2020 Census shows its population is more than 3,700 residents, stated the fire station has been at its current location for decades and has served the community well.
“However, it is prudent of Mr. Gatlin and the board he is chairperson of to look at the growth, the calls for service,” Mallery said, noting the village’s population boom in its northwest quadrant along 22nd Street. “So, with that, I’ll conclude with there’s been no decision. It’s not even close to a decision … I was asked a hypothetical and gave a timeframe. I didn’t see this coming in front of this village council for a year and a half.”
Mallery said when or if the time comes to discuss relocation of the fire department, he would follow an acceptable protocol and adhere to a formal, transparent process.
Until then, he cautioned social media users about falling for or perpetuating hyperbole.
During council member comments, Olsen offered his take on the matter.
“I’m not a liar. I did not lie … Jim told me that in 18 months the fire department would be told that their lease would not be renewed,” Olsen said. “Jim wants that property back (on village tax rolls) collecting taxes.”
Olsen serves as the council’s liaison to the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority Board. He suggested the council sell the building and its property to the fire authority for $1.
Olsen further recommended the council look ahead and schedule a sit-down discussion with the fire authority board to discuss the fate of the fire station building.
“I have suggested other sites and Mr. Mallery has shot that down,” Olsen said. “I have no problem with us building a new fire department attached to our village hall, our police department, and renting that building to South County Fire Authority.”
He said the fire authority has been offered a location at what is known as the EMS building, on Boulevard Avenue behind the hospital. Olsen said the authority has “dragged its feet” over the past 18 months and he vowed to get a definitive response from authority officials about their interest in the site.
By Jef Rietsma