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Amidst embezzlement charges, Mich. towns reassess ambulance services

After the director of the towns’ ambulance service was charged with embezzlement, municipalities are reconsidering how they want to handle finances

By Kelsey Hammon
Niles Daily Star

NILES TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Weeks after the former executive director of Southwestern Community Ambulance Service Tim Gray was found guilty of embezzlement of at least $50,000, the six municipalities that own SMCAS will soon be making some decisions about reorganization of the emergency ambulance service.

The municipalities that own SMCAS including Niles Township, Niles, Buchanan, Bertrand Township, Buchanan Township and Howard Township are expected to reach a decision before the end of December on whether to vote to have SMCAS continue to operate under Public Act 7 or Public Act 57.

Across the board, council members agreed the service provided by SMCAS has been great. But with Gray still to be sentenced on Dec. 16, some aspects to improving the service loom large.

“Niles Township is not attacking SMCAS on the service. Quite frankly we have heard that SMCAS provides premium high class service,” said Niles Township Treasurer James Ringler. “What we are concerned with is that they [would] operate financially sound going forward.”

Ringler said he hopes for municipalities to put provisions in place so that issues like embezzlement do not occur.

SMCAS currently operates under Public Act 7, which gives municipalities power to levee a millage. SMCAS does not currently have a millage and operates under a special assessments fee, in which taxpayers pay per home. Billing for their services makes up approximately 3/4 of revenue, according to Ringler.

While under public act 57, the corporation would have the power to put a millage rate on the ballot, the limit of which is 20 mills. Voters would have to vote for the millage for it to be approved. If voters do not approve a millage, then Ringler said he could foresee SMCAS facing financial challenges.

This week, the Township was expected to vote on a position stance to provide some direction on the municipality’s consensus of either public act.

“However since then I have decided I need more answers,” Ringler said. “Whether to change over or look at any other options that Niles Township has, I just think that we need a whole lot more information.”

Ringler said he has filed a request to seek information relating to financial documents including pension plans for bargaining unit employees, non-bargaining unit employees, personnel manual and contracts and the pension actuarial.

“I asked for all documents that end up controlling the financial aspect of SMCAS,” Ringler said.

With this information, Ringler said the township would have a full understanding of all the financial aspects.

If the township decides to remain under public act 7, Ringler said the township would also explore the possibility of re-writing several of the bylaws. This would include addressing ways to have funding based upon the proportionality of use and looking for ways to give municipalities more decision making power when it comes to the budget, which is currently decided solely by a board at SMCAS.

More discussion and analysis of the data will occur in the weeks to come.

The Niles Township board also motioned unanimously this week to accept a bid for the installation of a new generator. The Nappanee-based R. Yoder Construction bid was accepted for the amount of $44,485. The generator will provide for the township building and the Department of Public Works building.

Township clerk Terry Eull said that in emergency situations, the generator could help residents who need a place to go. The fire station also has generators.

“We just feel it is very important that we have Township Hall available to residents in case of an emergency,” Eull said.

Construction could begin as early as next week.

R. Yoder Construction was selected out of three total bids including a bid from Bender Electric in the amount of $52,400 and a bid from CT Electric in the amount of $52,800.

Steven Vandenburg, senior staff architect for Jones Petrie Rafinski, said reviews for R. Yoder Construction were positive.

Vandenburg contacted several companies that have worked with the construction company, including ITC toll road. Vandenburg said they reported a minor problem, which the construction company quickly remedied.

Eull said that the Township’s last generator was installed sometime in the 1970s. A couple of years ago it stopped working.

Copyright 2016 the Niles Daily Star