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The Suburbanite
  • Canton Township trustees tackle finances, fire levy at meeting

  • Canton township trustees told 30 residents Wednesday that their financial problems don’t start and end with the fire department. If voters approve new money for the fire department, they could soon be asked to support a road levy, too.

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  • Residents peppered trustees with questions about road paving, Fire Department operations and their intentions for the former Amos McDannel School, which was the site of a public meeting held Wednesday to address finances.
    But the question Fire Chief Scott McKibben returned to the 30 residents in attendance might not get answered until Election Day.
    “Do you want an active, aggressive fire department that can (answer calls) in a short time?” he asked, “Or do you want to go backward?”
    McKibben still is dealing with the ramifications of the last levy defeat. He has closed the North Industry Station, reverted the Meyers Lake Station to a volunteer post and begun billing residents for the portion of EMS runs not covered by insurance.
    McKibben says that if trustees place a 4-mill, five-year levy on the May 7 primary ballot and it fails, he’ll be forced to close the Sherman Church Fire Station. Trustees could act next week to place the tax issue on the ballot. They’ve said that a 1-mill levy set to expire next year will be rescinded if voters agree to pay more.
    “I’m just trying to keep firetrucks on the road,” McKibben said.
    During the meeting, the handful of firefighters in attendance were called to two fire-related incidents and one medical emergency —  a fact not lost on Trustee Bill Smith, who recognized the flurry of activity. The department’s call volume has increased 17 percent over a two-year period.
    Smith railed against state lawmakers who have stripped revenue from local government, specifically the estate tax, tangible personal property tax and undivided local government fund.
    “They didn’t personally raise (taxes),” he said, “but they trickled it down and grabbed our purse strings.”
    In 2012, voters rejected a 4.9-mill levy that would have allowed the Fire Department to consolidate three fire stations into the Amos McDannel School, which trustees bought at auction in 2011 for $176,000. They also rejected a 3.5-mill permanent levy , which failed by 29 votes in November.
    The fire budget has shrunk from $2 million to $1.6 million in recent years due to a cut in state funding and because properties are losing value. The 1-mill and 4.5-mill levies that are the backbone of the fire budget generate about $300,000 less than they did 12 years ago. McKibben would use new money to bolster staffing and replace aging ambulances and a firetruck.
    Resident Gregg Elliott said he voted against the last levy request, but feels more inclined to support an issue now. Elliott said he also is concerned about township roads.
    “I want to make sure our community gets the best of both worlds —  a reasonable budget, but also taken care of,” Elliott said. “I always felt like the fire department was getting its wheels greased, as opposed to the roads. But I will vote for the next levy.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Trustee Christopher Nichols said a road levy could be the township’s next concern, since Canton Township is one of two in the county without one.
    “It’s probably the next thing up,” he said.
    Trustees will hold a second public hearing at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Meyers Lake Station, 3103 Parkway NW.