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Mich. voters lift millage cap, set FD as primary transport

Traverse City voters chose the fire department, over Mobile Medical Response, as the primary ambulance service


Traverse City Firefighters Local 646/Facebook

By Elizabeth Brewer
The Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Traverse City Fire Department will become the city’s primary ambulance service, voters said Tuesday.

More than 65% of the votes cast favored this change while roughly 35% voted against the proposal.

“We obviously knew that there’s a lot of trust in the community, but you never really know until there’s a vote of this magnitude on the ballot,” said Jacob Steichen, president of the Traverse City Firefighters Local 646, on Tuesday night. “We don’t take it for granted.”

Fire department paramedics are first responders to every medical emergency call in the city, but they could not transport patients to the hospital. If that service was needed, the Saginaw-based nonprofit, Mobile Medical Response, would provide it.

Steichen said he was relieved this proposal is what the majority of voters want and attributed the success of their request to a lot of boots-on-the-ground campaigning by off-duty firefighters.

In approving the request, voters OK’d the lifting of a state-imposed cap on Traverse City’s operating millage for 20 years so the city can levy up to 1 mill over the Headlee Amendment-imposed cap on its operating millage, which is 11.7688.

Bumping the operating levy up to 12.7688 would bring in $1,173,500 in 2024 for the fire department to make the necessary upgrades to provide the city’s primary emergency transportation services.

Mobile Medical Response, called MMR, is currently the city’s primary transport agency, meaning its ambulances handle any transports unless none are available. City commissioners approved an agreement with the company in December where the company doesn’t charge the city, but it bills patients.

With the city fire department taking over as the primary transport agency, residents will pay a higher operating millage, but any resident who needs an ambulance ride won’t pay a bill for it, officials said.

Department Chief Jim Tuller previously told the Record-Eagle that his department would use what’s called “tiered billing,” where city residents who are transported by the ambulance would only be responsible for what their insurance covers.

The fire department would waive the rest.

Nonresidents will still be billed for the full cost of services. The fire department currently doesn’t bill for its services unless it transports a patient.

This new measure will allow the fire department to hire nine more paramedics and an EMS captain, as well as purchase a second and third ambulance for the city.

Newly elected Traverse City Mayor Amy Shamroe had said prior to the election that she was in favor of the proposal, but noted that ultimately it was up to the voters to decide what their budgets and wallets could handle.

Looking ahead, Steichen said there’s a lot of work to be done to fully implement the proposal, but that they will strive to ensure existing services work smoothly during the transition.

Amy Fairchild, MMR’s operations manager for the Northwest division, said they still plan on providing emergency medical services in Traverse City. MMR handles long-distance patient transfers, for example.

“We have no plans to go anywhere and will continue to provide EMS services as needed,” she said Tuesday night. “Congratulations to Traverse City Fire.”

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