By DAVID GREEN
The City of Morenci recently collected more than $3,500 owed for fire calls, but city council members hope to bring in much more by starting a collection process.
Council voted July 14 to authorize the city attorney to send collection letters to 11 individuals and companies for a second attempt at collecting funds.
"We haven't consistently collected since 2004," city clerk/administrator Michael Sessions told council at a committee-of-the-whole meeting.
The uncollected figure stands at more than $40,000, however, nearly half of that amount must be forgiven since it's more than six years old.
Morenci mayor Bill Foster said he knows of one person who said he was told by a fire department member that he wasn't required to pay the charge because his taxes pay for fire protection.
"We do charge for fire calls," Sessions said.
By law, he said, residents can be charged for structure fires and that cost can be passed on to the property owner's insurance company. Bills are also sent to anyone who makes what Sessions called "fraudulent" reports of a nuisance fire.
Most charges are for either $691 or $876. Funds owed by the 11 property owners who will receive second notices total $9,451. Sessions intends to send notices to those accounts older than six years, hoping those involved will decide to pay the debt.
Any funds collected—minus attorney fees—will be placed into the fire department sinking fund for the purchase of equipment.
During the committee discussion, council member Brenda Spiess suggested that a portion of money collected should go into the City's general fund since firefighters' wages are paid by the City.
"At a minimum," council member Jeff Bell agreed, "it should pay wages with the rest going into the sinking fund."
Discussion then turned to the optimum number of members to have on the fire department, in light of the $10,000 cost of turn-out gear for each member, plus a $450 pager.
Spiess said she isn't questioning the judgment of fire chief Brad Lonis, but she wants to hear his justification for accepting additional members. For example, she said, perhaps Lonis knows of impending retirements from the roster and wants to fill those gaps.
Since Lonis was not at the committee meeting, the issue was to be discussed at a public safety committee meeting.
Councilor Ron Apger said that the number of fire calls is growing, but it's largely related to an increase in assists to other departments, adding wear and tear to Morenci's equipment.
POLICE—New city hall employee Sarah Smiley was approved to work an additional four hours a week to assist the police department with paperwork, such as reports to the state and court preparation. That will fill a portion of the gap left by the resignation of Ann Emrick. Smiley will now work 20 hours a week.
PROPERTY—Council member Pearl Phelps mentioned during a committee meeting a suggestion she was given from a citizen about the sale of the former hospital property. If the land were sold, she said, a portion of the income should go to the ambulance service fund.
Mayor Foster disagreed, noting that the City has provided upkeep of the property for years.
Apger suggested dropping the price of the land to help attract buyers. Only two inquiries have been made on the seven-acre parcel offered for $40,000. Councilor Bell said he expects other pricing might be arranged if a developer were interested in buying the property.
MORTGAGE—Council voted to discharge the mortgage of the former M&S Corporation property on Salisbury Street, now used by the GreenJak recycling company.
Tim Robinson of Lenawee Now economic development group said he thought sale of the property was final last October, but the title company found a problem relating to 1871 and another to 2006.
The City should gain at least $3,000 from the $12,000 sale price of the buildings. That would re-pay closing costs incurred by council. The remainder of the money will cover a portion of back taxes owed.
LIBRARY—Council voted 7-0 to approve a district library planning resolution that states the City's interest in joining with Seneca and Medina townships to pursue a district library arrangement for Stair Public Library.
Stair director Colleen Leddy told council that 140 children registered for the Summer Reading Program. She also noted that bids for the Polly Link art work silent auction totals about $1,300 so far, with the final bid date set for Saturday.
TOWER—Maintenance work is underway at the city's north water tower off Coomer Street. The inside of the tower will be sandblasted, said city supervisor Barney Vanderpool, before the outside is painted.
ELECTION—Laurie Schisler was appointed to serve as director of the August primary election. She will be assisted by Tonia Hoffman, Megan Pike and Sarah Smiley.
WEBSITE—Spiess said she is collecting information to add area businesses on the city website. Businesses outside of town that serve Morenci are eligible for inclusion.
VIOLATORS—Resident Karen Sinks said there are too many ordinance violations going on in town, such as perpetual yards sales and unmowed lawns.
"I don't think it's right that a neighbor should have to complain," she said.
She likes what is being done in Fayette where the mayor and police chief are driving around town looking for violations.