Dissolving the South Shore Fire Department is one option Trustee Jerry Garski wants to explore, saying it could save money by taking firefighters off the payroll.
Saving money is a priority for Mount Pleasant because fire department overtime costs could be $300,000 or more over budget in 2012. Other options to address the overtime problem include and re-opening the South Shore Fire contract to address health insurance costs.
"Right off the bat, we'd save payroll on 12 to 15 firefighters," Garski said. "Right now, we're an entitlement program for Sturtevant. If we got rid of our consolidation agreement and privatized ambulance service, we could maybe save a lot of money."
The primary reason for the overage is that two full three-person crews are assigned to Station 9 in as part of the villages' 2009 consolidation agreement. or risk having some of the 2012 payment withheld. As of Feb. 20, six firefighters have been stationed in Sturtevant for all shifts every day, bringing the total number of firefighters on duty each shift to 15 when only 12 were budgeted.
He likened the relationship between the villages over South Shore to a business partnership with too much head-butting.
"There are just too many stubborn people on both sides and we're not on common ground too often," Garski added. "And with Mount Pleasant taking on the lion's share of the responsibility with finance and administration and whatnot, this isn't so much a partnership as Sturtevant just contracts for service."
Trustee Karen Albeck said she hasn't formed a firm opinion and is waiting for more information. Still, from the preliminary information she has, Albeck said it appears Mount Pleasant could save a significant amount of money.
"I need more information, but if what I've been told is accurate, (dissolving the contract) could result in significant cost reductions for Mount Pleasant, which is a positive thing," she said.
'Grasping at Straws'
Sturtevant Village President Steve Jansen said he feels like Mount Pleasant might be grasping for straws because trustees there created the situation because they didn't budget properly.
"We budget for capital purchases and our portion of the contract," he said. "The formula was calculated and agreed on in 2009. Sturtevant is fulfilling every part of the contract while Mount Pleasant has made decisions that we had nothing to do with."
South Shore Union President William Miller was incredulous at the suggestion.
"Jerry Garski just proves that he is irresponsible as a governor of the village and as a steward of the safety of citizens by even thinking about this," he said. "Separating the service means returning assets to Sturtevant and personnel, too, which can impact the reputation and image of both communities when it comes to attracting businesses and residents."
More Work Needed From All Sides
He says all sides of the table should come together to explore options and the responsible way to do it is to decide on a goal and hammer out agreements to get there.
"Along the way, though, all sides have to stick to the contracts in place," Miller added. "And yeah, sometimes getting to agreement might cost one side or the other, but that's what compromise is all about."
Jansen recognizes the consolidation contract does allow for termination and he respects that even as he disagrees with doing away it.
"I think services now are top-notch and works well for both municipalities," he said. "Consolidation is for the greater good of the entire community."
Mount Pleasant Trustee Harry Manning also thinks the agreement is good for both villages.
"There is concern in Mount Pleasant because there are some problems,” he said. “But I think it’s important to keep the agreement to reduce the cost of this community service.”
He said he knows the relationship between the villages has been strained, but having a joint fire department is better overall for both communities and not just one municipality.
Milkie said dissolving the agreement runs counter to a prevailing culture of cooperaton, consolidation and cost sharing. Plus, she added, Mount Pleasant would have to build a new station and hire more people.
“Any cost savings we might have seen would disappear,” she explained. “Plus, if we don’t stick to this agreement, it will be very hard for Mount Pleasant to find partners for any future agreements because who would trust that we wouldn’t just dissolve those, too?”