By Sterling McGinn

The Newberry Village Council held a lengthy discussion at their May meeting about requesting another Village fire millage of two mills to purchase a fire truck for the Newberry Fire Department.

The council met on Tuesday, May 21. A truth in taxation hearing was held prior to the council meeting.

An addition to the current millage for fire department operations, the second millage, if approved by voters, would be in place for 10 years, and would be used to make payments on a loan for a new fire truck.

“This is for us having revenue coming in to set aside to pay for our portion of a vehicle,” said Village Manager Allison Watkins. “We pay a third.”

Costs for the Newberry Fire Department are shared between the village, Pentland Township, and McMillan Township. Each would also be responsible for paying a portion of a new vehicle.

Watkins proposed a millage that would be used in part to fund a new fire truck, and in part to cover operational costs of the fire department that exceed the current fire tax revenue.

“There is anywhere from $23,000 to $25,000 of the fire budget being subsidized by the general fund,” Watkins said. “The tax is not enough to cover the operational costs.”

Expenses not covered by the fire tax uses funds that could have been used by Public Works, Parks and Rec, etc, Watkins said.

“Our third is $64,000. We will bring in about $40,000 in tax revenue with the current fire millage. That is $23,000 short of what we need to cover operational costs for the fire trucks,” Watkins said.

That’s a point of contention for the Newberry Fire Department. Fire Chief John Wendt has said he and his department will only support the new millage request if its funds are used solely to purchase a new truck – but not for department expenses. The fire committee voted unanimously at their last meeting that the proposed millage should only be used for vehicles.

Wendt provided this statement to The Newberry News: “The fire department would support a millage fund specifically for a new fire truck account, rather than a general vehicle/equipment fund. We support this approach because it ensures the funds will be used exclusively for the intended vehicle, preventing any diversion of resources. Additionally, the community consistently supports our events and fundraisers, and when we request financial assistance, we want to assure them that their contributions are being utilized appropriately.”

The council tabled a decision about placing the millage on the November ballot until the next meeting.

The village’s role in overseeing the fire department was discussed at the truth in taxation hearing. By law, villages are not required to provide fire services. That responsibility is assigned to townships.

Watkins said she didn’t know why the village became the administrator for the fire department. Trustee Jeff Puckett said he would like the board to look into the issue.

In other business, Watkins informed the council that the village’s emergency siren was back in operation, though it appears to be out of service again. The back-up batteries were dead and corroded, and the chargers had stopped working.

“When the siren was supposed to go off, there wasn’t enough power to run it,” Watkins said.

The village is waiting to receive new batteries and chargers, which cost about $2,500. The four batteries would allow the siren to work if the electricity is out. Watkins also signed a yearly preventive maintenance contract with West Shore Fire.

Once per year, the company will inspect the unit and perform preventive maintenance. Watkins believes this was the first time the siren was serviced since it was installed in 2013.