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City, Fire Authority unveil rental agreement issues

SAFA owes for several years, city hasn't tried to collect


STANDISH — The Standish Area Fire Authority (SAFA) rents its fire barn on M-61 from the city of Standish, however, since 2002, no rent has been paid to the city due to the lack of poof of a rental agreement between the city and SAFA.

At the Standish City Council meeting on April 20, the issue was made public, but it is far from resolved, as copies of a rental agreement apparently don’t exist, says Standish City Manager Mike Moran.

“They (fire department) had been paying the rent all along until 2002 and I believe that’s about the time the fire authority was formed,” Moran said. “From that point on they haven’t been paying nor has the city been asking for payment.

“The city, financially, we’ve got a lot of concerns and that’s (rent) a source of revenue.”

“I think when the new treasurer (Peggy Burtch) came on board, she looked and discovered why we weren’t receiving the payments,” said City Councilman Richard Vollbach. “The reality is we discovered it now and when you discover something, you have to pursue it.

“The problem is, this dates back a lot of years.”

According to Moran, prior to 2002, the rental payment was $4,500 per year, equaling approximately $36,000 in unpaid rent to the city, but it seems no one is positive on what was being collected annually for the use of the building.

“I’ve been told, that supposedly it’s (rent) $4,500. I say supposedly because there’s no documentation to prove that this is what’s due, other than in 2002, this is what the fire department paid,” said Fire Authority Board member Curt Hillman. “Nobody’s able to show a rental agreement.”

Doug Ireland, city council member who also serves as the SAFA President, says the SAFA had attempted to pay the rent in the past.

“We as a fire department, did not try to hide this,” he said, adding instead, the fire department was never billed. “We need an invoice for every thing we pay. … If they were to give us an invoice, we wouldn’t have a problem paying for rent.”

“We asked them 10, 12 times to give us an invoice, and they didn’t do it,” said SAFA Board President Jeff Trombley.

“Being involved with government as long as I’ve been in government, I can tell you, you don’t pay a bill unless you have a bill,” Hillman added.

And while the city is desperate for revenue, the SAFA has some plans of its own with money it has been saving up over the years.

“We were planning on using a chunk of our savings to buy a new truck,” Trombley said.

According to Hillman, the cost of the new truck would be approximately $311,500.

And Ireland says that if the back rent has to be paid in 2009, and the truck can’t be purchased this year, the SAFA would have to spend $5,000 - $20,000 more on the truck due to a change in emissions regulations that will become active in 2010.

Not only simply saving money may be a reason to buy a new truck sooner than later, though.

Ireland says a couple of weeks ago, when the SAFA was called out to multiple fires in one day, there were several mechanical problems with the department’s trucks, one of which is the department’s number one pump truck, which Ireland added is about 13 years old, three years past the replacement schedule.

However, while representatives from both sides are working to come up with some sort of payment agreement that works best for their interest, the city or fire department, or both in Ireland’s case, those involved have accepted partial blame for the issue.

“The city is at least half at-fault here,” Ireland said, adding the SAFA would shoulder some of the blame too. “We knew we should’ve been paying rent.”

“I think both parties should have done something way back then,” Hillman said.

“This is a little glitch,” Trombley said. “It’ll work its way out.”

“The plan was to open up a dialog,” Vollbach added. “You want to have a good relationship with the fire department and you should, we’re all in the same family here. … But it was never the intent that they use that building gratis.”

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