Voters will have their say on EMS service in August

 

LAPEER — The question of a Lapeer County Emergency Medical Services (LCEMS) millage will go before the voters in August, but it wasn’t without tribulation.

The Lapeer County Commission voted 4-3 to allow the LCEMS millage to appear on the August 6 primary election ballot, ostensibly putting the issue for a millage renewal with increase in the hands of voters throughout Lapeer County.

The motion to do so was put on the table by Commissioner Gary Howell with support from Commissioner Brad Haggadone with votes in favor of the motion coming from Commissioners Bryan Zender and William Hamilton.

A large contingent of Lapeer County taxpayers attended the County Commission meeting last week to voice their concerns over whether or not the EMS ballot language would be allowed to be put on the August ballot. The Commission voted 4-3 to allow it.

Voting against the resolution to place the LCEMS millage on the August ballot were Chairman Tom Kohlman, Vice-Chair Truman Mast and Commissioner Kevin Knisely.

The vote was held before a packed meeting room and was met by applause from the members of the public who were majority in favor of the resolution.

Following a 10-minute break, during which most members of the public in attendance left, Hamilton issued a motion to “revisit” the previous vote, citing that he’d “changed his mind” 32 minutes after his initial vote in favor.

That motion was seconded by Knisely, but was ultimately rescinded after Chairman Kohlman spoke against it, “going on record” to identify the motion as “inappropriate.”

Kohlman said that “[the public] was here, and they have a right to come here, and that influences how we vote and now that they’re gone, it’s easy to change your vote.”

Vice-Chair Mast also clarified that he would not vote in favor of the second motion, should it have made it that far.

The public response to the debate, cited by Kohlman, was significant, with approximately two dozen members of the public ranging from LCEMS employees and elected township and city officials to educational professionals, users of LCEMS services as well as veterans of public health careers.

Most spoke during the meeting’s first public time section. Each were granted the customary three minutes, and commissioners listened as more than 90 minutes of input was provided by the attending public.

While Commissioners Knisely, Kohlman and Mast identified their reasoning against putting the measure on August’s ballot as one related to voting numbers—in other words, November general elections historically drawing more voters than summer primaries.

LCEMS Executive Director Russ Adams, who spoke before the Commission vote, said the measure on the August ballot would allow, should it be voted down by the public, for the LCEMS Board of Directors to “revise” their millage language for another chance before voters in November. The taxpayer funding of LCEMS expires in December of 2025.

Commissioner Howell feared putting the millage off until November’s ballot might allow for the issue to be buried all-together and not appear at all.

As Howell said, the deadline for items to appear on August’s ballot is April 30, so if the Commission approved the measure to appear on August’s ballot during Thursday’s meeting, there will be no chance for that decision to be reversed.

Prior to the 4-3 vote, a legal wrinkle was brought up among Board members after a “discussion of conflict of interest” was added to the agenda’s items. That conflict of interest was identified as a result of Commissioner Zender owning a property in Dryden Township currently rented by LCEMS as a base servicing the southeast corner of Lapeer County.

According to Corporate Counsel for Lapeer County, the relationship between Zender and LCEMS could be considered an “indirect” conflict of interest but does not require him to recuse himself.

A significant number of public commenters shared their concerns regarding the Commission taking away their right to choose for themselves at the ballot box by barring the millage.

“Not to allow people to vote on this in August, I think, is a shame,” said Dryden Township Supervisor Tina Papineau, who spoke during public time. “There are so many people who depend on [LCEMS service].”

Barb Yockey, an attorney residing in Imlay City (and Imlay City Commissioner), pointed out during public time that when the LCEMS millage last appeared on the ballot four years ago, voters “overwhelmingly” chose to support the organization, voting 16,665 in favor and 6,457 against.

“I’m asking that you let the voters decide if they want to support this service,” said Yockey. “A corporate entity would not provide quality service throughout the entire county, and we need to continue our county service which provides service to all areas, including the rural areas.”

Not all public speakers were in favor of the millage appearing in August. A few expressed their desire to see the Commission push the measure to appear in November.

“This should go before the people to have a right to have a say,” said one citizen. “And having studied past elections and percentage of turnout, you always get more turnout in general elections than you do in a primary. So if the intention is to have the people have a say, this has to go to the November ballot.”

Former Michigan State Rep. John Stahl (2003-2008), an Arcadia Twp. resident, also shared his opinion.

“I’m 100% for EMS but things have to be run efficiently and they have to be run responsible (sic),” he said. “And if we make decisions just to rush something through, we’re doing a disservice to the taxpayer.” Stahl continued saying that “throwing more money at something is not the answer.”

The millage approved by county voters in 2020 was a “bare-bones budget,” according to Adams at the time, that saw a reduced tax rate of .89 mills, down from the full 1 mill from the 2016 millage that passed countywide by 1,532 votes.

The freshly approved ballot language that will appear in August states the LCEMS is seeking a renewal of the previous rate of .89 mills as well as an additional .3 mills, for a total of 1.1814 mills.

That would equate to roughly $1.18 per $1,000 of taxable property value, so should August’s proposal be approved by voters, taxpayers would see an increase of 30 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value over what they’re paying now.

Adams said last week in an interview with Tri-City Times the measure failing to appear on August’s ballot would have been “catastrophic.”

“We have funding through 2025 with the current millage,” Adams told Tri-City Times. “If this is not approved, come 2026, the EMS Authority board will have to look at their options.”