By Matt Schepeler
Liberty officials are hoping that residents will approve a 1.5 mill request for fire equipment May 8. If approved, the millage would be for five years and would begin with the winter 2018 tax bills. Monies from the millage could be used for equipment replacement and building maintenance and improvements only.
The millage would allow the department to replace its 1998 Wolverine pumper. “There are three townships [in Jackson County] that do not have a fire millage, and Liberty is one of them,” noted treasurer Gloria Michaels when the board voted to seek the millage last December.
The fire department currently owns two pumper engines, a tanker, a grass fire rig, an off-road jeep and a rescue vehicle.
Chief Brandon Hughes said that he hoped to be able to sell the 1998 engine for $25,000 to $50,000. He said shedding the department of that truck would save increasing maintenance costs, and put the township in a better timing cycle when financing future engines, especially if they can get maximum use out of the 2005 engine.
Hughes hopes to purchase a Spartan chassis and cab that would be custom built in Charlotte. The engine would include a 1,000-gallon water tank and seat up to six. He said the new vehicle would improve responsiveness and safety.
“The engines that we have now are basically like a bench seat style,” he said. “They don’t have air packs in the seats. The new cabs have air packs in the seats. They are designed for firefighters to put on their air packs en route, that way when we get on scene we will have firefighters getting off the truck, putting their masks on and being ready to fight a fire or make a rescue.”
He added that the current fire trucks also do not have safety equipment such as airbags. “They [new trucks] have everything you would expect in 2017, just like the cars. Increased technology means they would be safer for us and [quicker] response time for residents.”
The chief said that the department’s vehicle extraction equipment, or jaws, is also 20 years old, and replacing it with new equipment would run roughly $30,000.
One trustee stressed the importance of replacing the existing jaws equipment. “If it was me getting smacked out there on 127, I would much rather have you out there with a brand-new jaws of life cutting up my Subaru,” said trustee Mark Smith. “The materials in [today’s] vehicles are lighter but they are growing tougher all the time, so the tools [chief Hughes] and his crews need to rescue people has to get tougher, stronger and more expensive.”
Smith noted that there are other advantages with the new jaws of life, which is battery powered. They do not need to hook up hoses, they can more easily be carried to sites far off the road, and they do not need a generator to operate.
“This is all about response time to get people out of vehicles and out of burning homes. I don’t think we actually have a choice . . . but to consider a limited term millage.
If approved, a home worth $100,000 would be expected to pay $75 a year extra in property tax if the millage passes. It is estimated to bring in $171,000 in its first year and will not be renewed after five years.