Belleville — A controversial move to outsource fire services here to a neighboring community was tabled Monday evening for after residents and volunteer firefighters objected to the proposal.
More than 60 people showed up to protest what many thought was going to be a vote on outsourcing fire services to Van Buren Township. The meeting, originally slated for the city’s headquarters, was moved to lunchroom of Belleville High School.
While Mayor Kerreen Conley insisted at a board meeting Monday evening that no decision was imminent, Fire Department brass said they were told by the city manager that council members would vote and that an agreement was pretty much done.
Conley said she hopes Belleville continues “to have the service delivery at the current level or even greater” and that any decision must take into account improved service response times since volunteers leave their homes, go to the fire station and then to a scene.
“We don’t want to lose the service that we deliver to our citizens because that’s first and foremost,” Conley said. “That’s why this is not an easy decision. It is not an easy conversation to have, but it is one we need to have.”
The mayor added, after listening to residents question the deal, “We’ve got a lot to think about. There are some unanswered questions that need to be vetted out.”
Michael Ossy, an attorney representing the Belleville Volunteer Firefighters Association, is awaiting a decision in Wayne County Circuit Court to temporarily stop the city from any action. A hearing could happen as early as Tuesday, he said.
Belleville Fire Capt. Kristopher Rix said that city officials called Fire Department leaders to a meeting just before Thanksgiving to say that “as of Jan. 1, we will be dissolved.” He said the city manager and city attorney told him and others this.
“There was no discussion like tonight. We were also told that they had the votes already,” Rix said. “There’s nothing to fight and this was what they’re doing and they’ve decided.”
Rix said he was told they needed a new fire truck, something Conley said was not factual during the meeting, and call coverage. “We’ve never had an issue with response time on nothing like that,” he said.
The tentative 10-year deal would cost $160,000 annually for the first four years. It would then increase by 2 percent each year. The last year would cost slightly more than $180,000. Firefighters would become employees of the Van Buren Township, according to the tentative language of the proposal. Their current contract ends on Dec. 31.
The paid, on-call volunteer firefighters voted to unionize last year.
The discussion among city officials about outsourcing to Van Buren Township have been going on since August, officials said.
Conley said she’d like to see a committee and perhaps use a facilitator to help determine a course of action. Some residents called for a millage.
City officials said at the meeting that they have been having conversations about an intergovernmental agreement but that no decision or vote was going to take place until residents had some input.
There are about 11 volunteer firefighters in Belleville, including three supervisors.