WALKERVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Residents in an Oceana County community could soon lose their fire department.
On-call firefighters are threatening to walk out if the Village of Walkerville and three surrounding townships don’t approve the budget for for the Walkerville Area Fire Authority.
Leaders from Walkerville and Leavitt, Colfax and Elbridge townships will meet Saturday morning to vote on the new budget. But claims of overspending and mismanagement on the part of Fire Authority administrator and onetime fire chief Jerry Frick are putting that budget in jeopardy.
“It’s just been one battle after another and it’s went on and on,” Frick said.
A few of the holdouts on the township boards told 24 Hour News 8 that while they support the firefighters, the Fire Authority went over budget last year to the tune of about $75,000 and they say this year’s budget is also out of whack.
“It’s way out of hand,” Leavitt Township Treasurer David Krupee said. “(Frick is) trying to get us to pay the bills but not telling us where the money’s going.”
Frick told 24 Hour News 8 the amount was lower than $75,000 and that it was all accounted for. He said that as one of two millages supporting the fire department expired, the Fire Authority had to move some money from one place to another to pay some bills.
“Then it started in: ‘There’s corruption.’ And then, ‘There’s all this stuff, graft and corruption and embezzlement.’ And rumors just flying all over the place,” Frick said.
He helps run the business side of the department, which has an annual budget of around $160,000. Frick earns $7,000 per year. He also writes grant applications that brought in over a half of a million additional dollars over the past decade.
If the four governing bodies don’t pass the budget on Saturday, firefighters say they’ll stop responding starting next Thursday.
No problem, say those questioning the spending. They say they’ll rely on mutual aid from neighboring departments.
But that can be a long haul and time is crucial in fire and medical emergencies. Hesperia’s fire department is 15 miles away. Lilley Township is 17 miles away and Hart firefighters would have to travel some 25 miles to the northernmost part of Walkerville response area.
Hart Fire Chief Jack White says mutual aid would only be a short term solution.
A walkout in Walkerville would affect a 130-square-mile area of Oceana County and about 3,000 permanent residents. The department responds to just over 200 calls a year, the majority of which are medical emergencies.
If firefighters quit, residents may not get the emergency response they have counted on for years.
“They don’t want to (quit). These members are here to serve the people,” Frick said. “And it just breaks their heart with all this stuff going on and it’s like you’re getting stabbed in the back every time you turn around.”