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Fire Authority agrees to fiscal controls

By Jef Rietsma and Rob Peterson

The six-member South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority has endured criticism for an absence of financial controls in recent years.

The authority’s board dealt with the criticism in February, adopting a set of financial policies.

The issue came to a head late in 2021 and earlier this year when three member communities threatened to hold up approval of a new budget, possibly halting the authority’s firefighting and rescue operations.

A year ago, two members, Schoolcraft and Vicksburg, had refused to approve the budget. It had passed with approval from the other four members representing townships of Brady, Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft and Wakeshma.

This year, Schoolcraft Township joined the two villages.

Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery, with a reputation for tough financial controls, and Schoolcraft Manager Cheri Lutz offered to look at the authority’s policies.

Mallery said, “The financial documents (for the authority) reminded me of what we inherited here in the village in 2016.”

Mallery said he found no written conflict of interest policy, none spelling out purchasing controls, credit card usage, fund balances and capital asset management.

Mallery questioned as potential conflicts of interest the payments to a current authority board member for training its administrator and a contract to purchase equipment from another board member’s business. Neither violated the agency’s policies since none dealt with those issues.

Two authority board members before the February vote had appeared less concerned about the absence of written policies.

“I think we have the same (policies) already in place, said Supervisor Tracy Locey of Brady Township. “We just don’t have them in writing.”

“It’s pretty much how we’ve operated; it just wasn’t formal,” said authority member Mike Tomlinson, Prairie Ronde supervisor.

The written policies satisfied the board, which approved the budget.

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