The Otsego Fire Department will have 24/7 coverage beginning July 1 thanks to a millage that was passed by voters. (Photo provided)
By Jason Wesseldyk
The future direction of the Otsego Fire Department hung in the balance based on the results of a public safety millage vote that took place on Tuesday, May 2.
If passed, the millage would provide the additional funding needed for the department to be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week and continue to respond to medical calls. If voters rejected the millage proposal, OFD would no longer respond to medical calls.
It was the first of those scenarios that played out, with voters from the City of Otsego voting by a 58-percent-to-42-percent margin to approve the millage.
The outcome allowed Otsego city manager Aaron Mitchell and Otsego fire chief Brandon Weber to breathe a sigh of relief.
“I think we are all excited to have it behind us and now we know what direction the community wants for us to proceed in,” Mitchell said. “That direction is to move towards a staffed fire station with a firefighter 24/7.”
The Otsego City Commission voted in January to put the real-and-replace millage proposal on the ballot.
The current public safety millage, which passed in 2016, was for two mills for 10 years. It was set to expire in 2026.
The new millage is for four mills for the next 10 years. It is set to take effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1, and will run through the 2032 tax year.
The new millage will cost homeowners an additional two dollars in taxes for every $1,000 of taxable value on their property.
The need for the increased funding, according to Mitchell, was the significant escalation in the number of calls being handled by the fire department.
“The current on-call volunteer model being used by (OFD) is designed to handle 500 calls per year,” Mitchell said. “In 2022, they handled 1,238 calls. That simply wasn’t sustainable.”
With the millage having passed, Mitchell said he and Weber will now meet to decide how to proceed.
“Chief Weber and I will discuss getting a posting out there to hire some full-time firefighters,” Mitchell said. “We will look internally first to see if any current OFD firefighters would be interested in the positions. We anticipate that there will be some internal applicants.
“We also must determine how many we will need to hire. We could only hire two and bring on some sit times for our on-call firefighters to take. We’ll discuss all of the options.”
The city held several informational meetings for the public in the lead-up to the election, wanting to ensure residents were fully aware of the implications of the vote.
Mitchell was grateful for the support voters showed.
“I am glad the vote went the way it did, because I am confident that the community would have been heartbroken to see medical first responders go away,” he said. “Thankfully, those are conversations we do not have to have.
“We appreciate the confidence that the voters have in us continuing to be stewards of their tax dollars.”