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Garfield Township Puts Grand Traverse Metro Fire in the Hot Seat, Seeking to Hire Consultant

The Grand Traverse Metro Fire Authority includes three townships, but one of them wants to look at some possible changes.

GT Metro includes Garfield, East Bay, and Acme townships. But Garfield Township is putting some heat on Metro Fire.  Garfield Township is looking at ways to improve its relationship with Grand Traverse Metro.

Township Supervisor Chuck Korn says, “I think we’re really examining the partnership. We’re not, I would say not entirely happy with the organization. But we’d like to see what our options are and what makes sense for us.”

They are not looking to leave the fire authority, at least not yet. But the township is hoping things will change. Garfield has been a part of the current structure since 2008.  But at a recent board meeting it was suggested that Garfield withdraw completely from GT Metro.  That idea was shot down by the board. But they came up with a Plan B. Instead, the township will hire a consultant to look at efficiencies and see if there are ways to make the partnership better.

“There had been a lot of talk. I just wanted to have the discussion in public and get it out there. The board decided not to leave,” Korn says. “The board has deemed that it would be a good idea to have a consultant come in now. Look at what we have now, look at what our options could be. And look at some recommendations for us.”

Korn says a one-size fits all approach may not be in Garfield Township’s best interests. “The communities are different. Acme is small a rural. East Bay is big and very spread out. Garfield tends to be more compact and urban. So there’s some different approaches (that are taken to firefighting and emergency services.” According to Korn, current population estimates put Acme Township at 4,501; East Bay Township at 11,716; and Garfield Township at 19,743.

Metro Fire Chief Pat Parker says, “This was kind of a vision that was seen back in 1980 when we became the Metro Fire Department. That we need to come together, look for efficiencies, look for economies of scale, and do this together.” Parker says although Garfield is growing rapidly, the three townships are similar.  “We’re probably the biggest fire department north of Grand Rapids. But we’ve got a lot of population. We have a lot of commercial, we have a lot of industrial up here. We have all these lakes and rivers and that we’ve geared up to be able to handle water rescues, river rescues. Those types of things. Who’s going to handle hazmat calls? Who’s going to handle confined space calls, trench rescue calls?” 

“Garfield is more of a suburban area. Meaning that they’re big. There’s a lot going on. Lot of people move in. Their population grew in the census,” Parker says. Garfield contributes to about half of the Metro Fire budget, but represents a solid majority of the workload. “We’ve geared ourselves up, we’ve staffed, we’ve trained to handle these types of calls in Garfield, East Bay, and Acme,” he says. “Combined, we can pull it off.  We’re about a $5.5  million budget. Big budget. Garfield’s portion of that is $2.8 million. So it’s significant. Garfield Township pays about 49% of our budget but they usually, month-to-month, are over 70% of our resources. Meaning the calls, meaning our fire prevention people are in Garfield 70%. I think we’re bringing value to the table.”

Garfield also considered leaving about four years ago during a dispute over the bylaws of the partnership. But the bylaws were changed and Garfield stayed put.

Now, the Chief says he welcomes additional input. “I fully support the consultant. I would love to hear what they see and find and maybe there’s ways out here we can do things better and more efficiently,” Parker says. “In the end, I think they’re going to find we’re a pretty well-run, efficient, customer-focused fire department now.”

Township board members will look at hiring a consultant in the new year. That consultant will then begin the process of evaluating the partnership with GT Metro.