2018-02-01 / News

Fire Dept. Wants To Establish Authority, Would Seek Millage on August Ballot

Push Underway To Enforce Blight and Zoning Ordinances in City of St. Ignace
By Kevin R. Hess


St. Ignace’s current fire hall. The City of St. Ignace, and townships of St. Ignace and Moran are considering establishment of the Straits Area Fire Authority that would allow them to seek a millage to help fund the building of a new hall, purchase new equipment, and fund operations. Assistant Fire Chief Steven Paquin said the current fire hall does not have adequate space to conduct trainings and is too small to fit any new equipment. Establishing the authority will allow the firefighters to relocate and upgrade their equipment. In 2017, the fire department responded to more than 90 calls, an average of one every four days. St. Ignace’s current fire hall. The City of St. Ignace, and townships of St. Ignace and Moran are considering establishment of the Straits Area Fire Authority that would allow them to seek a millage to help fund the building of a new hall, purchase new equipment, and fund operations. Assistant Fire Chief Steven Paquin said the current fire hall does not have adequate space to conduct trainings and is too small to fit any new equipment. Establishing the authority will allow the firefighters to relocate and upgrade their equipment. In 2017, the fire department responded to more than 90 calls, an average of one every four days. The St. Ignace Fire Department is in the process of establishing the Straits Area Fire Authority that would serve the City of St. Ignace, St. Ignace Township, and Moran Township. City Manager Michael Stelmaszek and St. Ignace Assistant Fire Chief Steven Paquin reported the department’s goal and the process needed to make this happen to the City Council during a work session Monday, January 22.


The proposed site of a Straits Area Fire Authority fire hall is at the corner of Chambers and South Marley streets, just south of US-2. The proposed site of a Straits Area Fire Authority fire hall is at the corner of Chambers and South Marley streets, just south of US-2. By establishing a fire authority, it would become its own entity and be able to seek a millage to build a fire hall and for equipment and operations. The fire department would like to build a new facility at the corner of Chambers and South Marley streets, on property now owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

To establish an authority, all three units must sign the Articles of Incorporation and appoint commissioners. The authority would then adopt bylaws and create a millage proposal. If this is done by mid-May, it could ask voters for a millage in the August primary election. If not, a millage would wait for the November general election.

Any millage requested by the authority would have to be the same for the city and both townships, although each unit would collect taxes in proportion to its taxable value.

Under Michigan law, governmental units cannot borrow money to construct, renovate, or make improvements to buildings. Instead, an existing building authority would be used as the borrower of funds, and then lease the building to the fire authority. Income from an approved millage would begin coming in from property tax bills in December 2018. Until then, the existing funding agreement with the city will be in effect. Once millage is collected, a new agreement would be established for 2019.

Mr. Stelmaszek advised council that approval for this would need to happen in a timely manner in order to get moving on a millage proposal by May. Mr. Paquin suggested that the fire department board meet to get moving on the process and deliver the articles of incorporation and bylaws to the council and each township for approval.

The Straits Area Ambulance Service has also begun discussing creating its own authority, and a possible partnership with the fire department or Mackinac Straits Health System was discussed. As presented, the fire department’s decision to establish a fire authority, however, does not include a plan to partner with ambulance service at this time.

City Assessor, Blight Ordinance Enforcement Plans

The council wants to step up enforcement of city ordinances, and in other work session discussion, Mr. Stelmaszek said he is going to use the city police department to help enforce ordinances. The most pressing issues this year, he said, are zoning, blight, and parking in the summer.

Councilmember Kayla Pelter suggested contracting out ordinance enforcement to the county prosecutor’s office or to hire two city attorneys, one to handle ordinance enforcement and one to represent the city in bigger matters. There have been instances, said Ms. Pelter, where ordinance tickets have been thrown out because an attorney was not able to be present in court.

Councilmember Jim Clapperton said the city attorney should focus on representing the city on major issues, and not minor ticket enforcement.

Councilmember Luke Paquin, calling for stronger and more widespread enforcement of blight, asked how strong the city’s ordinances are, and said he drove through town recently and made notes of several properties that are in poor condition and should be addressed.

“Instead of chasing these one at a time, we need to do five” at a time, he said of addressing the blight concerns at various properties.

Mr. Stelmaszek agreed that the city needs to be more aggressive in enforcing its ordinances.

“Ordinances are not the issue,” he said, “it is enforcement. When we are more aggressive in enforcing these, people will begin to police themselves.”

Mr. Paquin said he’s had conversations with business owners who say people won’t follow the ordinances because nobody checks on them. Some businesses are paying a lot in property taxes, Mr. Paquin said, and taking care of their businesses as they should, but find themselves operating beside other properties that are not well cared for or maintained.

“It’s not fair to the owners that are doing it right,” he said of the lack of enforcement.

The city manager would like to see a full-time assessor for the city. A contracted, part-time assessor is now being used. Mr. Stelmaszek said the city is working toward hiring a new assessor, and while it will start as a part-time position, he hopes to move it to full-time in the near future. The current assessor has agreed to help train and mentor a new hire, said Mr. Stelmaszek, and to help the new hire attain the proper credentials. Mayor Litzner and the councilmembers want Mr. Stelmaszek to consider candidates who already have the proper credentials, as well. Even so, said Mr. Stelmaszek, a new hire would benefit from being mentored because each community is unique. The building inspector will remain as a separate position from the assessor.

Mr. Stelmaszek informed council that he was still getting requests for compensatory time from non-union employees, even though council had eliminated this practice for them in May 2017. The clerk was operating under the 2016 policy, but it had been changed in 2017. Mr. Stelmaszek brought the issue to council to clarify that the policy had been changed, and then said he plans to deny the current requests and make sure all non-union employees know the new policy, and that the policy is updated with the clerk.

Mayor Litzner said the policy was changed because some employees were building up compensatory time hours and turning them in for payment, in addition to regular hours.

“The definition of comp-time is ‘in lieu of work,’ not overtime or vacation,” she said.

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