Bronson rethinks fire merger

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By Mark Scohier

The Town of Bronson is keeping its fire department, for now.

The discussion came after town officials Monday night decided interim Bronson Fire Chief Dennis Russell should be given a chance to take over as chief full time.

Russell told the council he has done a lot in recent weeks, since previous Fire Chief Jeff DiMaggio’s departure at the start of the year, to whip the department back into shape and to get commitments from volunteers.

“I’m willing to step up and do what I need to do ... as long as I know I’ve got your support,” Russell said.

In previous meetings, fire officials had told council members the department was not able to meet coverage requirements. DiMaggio had, shortly before resigning, offered several plans on how to merge with the county’s fire department in order to meet those requirements, though the council expressed little interest in doing that.

Still, the county did put together a proposal.

Town Clerk Kelli Brettel said Monday, “We have received a draft agreement from the county, as well as a lease agreement (for fire department equipment and property).”

Brettel said she had some concerns with how the contracts were written, explaining that in a few sections the wording seemed to suggest Bronson would end up losing ownership of some of its property if services were later terminated.

“I don’t know. I paused when I read that,” she said. “I just don’t think you’re gonna’ get back everything you’re giving.”

Brettel also said she didn’t think the residents of Bronson would be getting a fair deal, considering they would have to start paying a $90 assessment. Commercial businesses would have to pay even more, she said.

The county is giving the town about $95,000 a year to cover a 15-square-mile district, she said, but the proposed merger would bring in about $80,000 a year to the county just for the 4 square miles that makes up Bronson city limits.

Vice Mayor Beatrice Roberts said she thought the assessment would hurt residents and business owners, claiming that small businesses would probably have to shut down.

“When I read this contract, it’s all pro county,” Roberts said. “I’m opposed to it.”

Council Member Bruce Greenlee said he, personally, would like to wait on proposed dealing with the county fire department.

“Let’s allow the interim chief to ... allow this an opportunity to work,” he said, adding that the option to merge with the county could be looked at later, should the need arise.

“I’m comfortable right now, based on what we’ve heard tonight,” he said.