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Harrison Township, Mount Clemens

February 5, 2013

Fire departments still interested in consolidation

By Julie Snyder
C & G Staff Writer

MOUNT CLEMENS/HARRISON TOWNSHIP — While talks of creating a mutual fire authority in Harrison Township and Mount Clemens appear to have fizzled, fire officials in the neighboring communities remain steadfast in their belief that a merger would be beneficial in more ways than one.

In a joint statement released on Jan. 11, the Harrison Township Firefighters Association and the Mount Clemens Firefighters Association stated that there is a united belief that a merger of fire services in the two communities would be a benefit to fire and EMS service by providing additional emergency personnel, as well as to the taxpayer who would see a significant savings in the pocketbook.

Work toward a potential consolidated fire and emergency service began in early 2012 with the creation of an exploratory committee made up of fire and elected officials from both Harrison Township and Mount Clemens.

The goal of the committee was to see if such a merger would be feasible, so they approached the Southeast Michigan Council of Government (SEMCOG) for assistance.

Fire union leaders, Andrew Houde, president of Local 1737 in Harrison Township, and Gregg Shipman, president of Local 838 in Mount Clemens, said the results of the SEMCOG study found that a merger would save the communities approximately $500,000 in the first year, with a projected $1 million savings annually in five years.

It was then that talks about combining services faded because of a lack of interest in the two community governments.

In their statement, Houde and Shipman urged their township and city officials to move forward on a merger.

“We brought automatic aid to our respected officials five years ago,” the statement read, referring to their automatic aid agreement, which allows the two departments to work and train together. “During those five years, lives and property has been saved.

“Now is the time to take the next step and give the taxpayers a voice,” the statement continued. “Let’s put aside political differences and save our taxpayers and communities money, all while improving service.”

The final say on a merger would go to the voters.

Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest said the idea is not dead in the water, but a lot more work and investigating needs to be done before anything is presented to the residents. He said, because of the geography of the area, Mount Clemens may be better off consolidating services with Clinton Township, which surrounds the city.

“Even if we combined the departments, we would still have a smaller fire department than most cities and townships,” Verkest said. “I don’t want to say ‘no’ on the issue, but I think we need to look deeper into it.”

Union officials have interest in a fire authority because the two departments already train and work together under the mutual aid agreement, and because of the close proximity and similar community size. Mount Clemens has a population of a little more than 16,000 and a 12-member fire department, while Harrison Township has approximately 24,500 residents and 27 firefighters/EMS personnel. Clinton Township, which has a population of about 97,000, houses five fire stations.

Verkest said a second option involves having one department absorb the other and then contract for services. However, one problem with that is the fact that Harrison Township has life support and transport services, while Mount Clemens does not offer patient transport; they instead use Medstar Ambulance for that service.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Julie Snyder at jsnyder@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1039.