With mounting pressure from local taxpayers, the Dexter Township Board of Trustees voted to begin negotiations with three property owners to purchase land for a permanent fire station at its meeting on Tuesday.
Township Trustee Jason Maciejewski asked the board to vote on a motion allowing Supervisor Pat Kelly to enter into a purchase agreement for 11485 North Territorial Road. The 5-acre parcel was the planned location for the fire station, however before the board authorized a purchase agreement. The owners of the property have since publically stated that they would be willing to sell the land to Dexter Township for its purchase and clean-up cost.
"I've said many times that I'm not looking at just what's here today. I'm looking at what my kids will experience 10, 20, or 30 years down the road when this township might have 10,000 people living here," he said. "While there might be other viable alternatives, geographically 11485 North Territorial is the best location that we have."
According to information provided by the township's Public Safety Advisory Committee, the location would put all of the township's residents within 5 miles of a fire station.
"In my mind, that location requires the least amount of work in terms of engineering, etc.," Maciejewski said. "When I repeatedly talked to people in this township during the election, that's the property that they all talked about."
Trustee Carl Lesser said he would not vote on a purchase agreement for one property.
"I'm not ready to make a decision tonight," he said. "We're looking at other properties for a heck of a lot less than 11485 North Territorial. If people don't care what their taxes are, we'll give them what they want, and maybe they won't like it."
Trustee William Gajewski and Clerk Harley Rider said the search committee should also negotiate a selling price with the Doletzky family for 5 acres on the southwest corner of North Territorial, and the Kopinski family for property on the northwest corner of North Territorial.
"We have the perception of putting all of our eggs in one basket again, and the time difference between shovel ready for 11485 North Territorial and the other two properties shouldn't be significant," Rider said before offering an amendment to the motion. "The response time is also an issue because no matter where that station is moved its going to improve response time for some people and decrease response time for other people."
In response to comments from Township Supervisor Pat Kelly that the 11485 North Territorial property would not be available if the board chose not to vote on a purchase agreement Tuesday, Rider said, "that's like putting a gun to the board's head."
Rider's amendment passed 5-2 to allow a committee comprised of Kelly and Trustees Michael Howard and Carl Lesser to meet with Dexter Plaza One, LLC., as well as the Doletzky and Kopinski family.
Township residents: 'This feels like bait and switch.'
Following the vote, township resident Mary Herda-Sprawka expressed disgust with the board's decision.
"The township just spent $370,000 on an early warning alarm system. We don't know how many people would've voted for that because none of us had a chance to vote on it," Herda-Sprawka said. "That's a lot of money, and whether the sirens will help people, we don't know. We don't have a lot of tornadoes around here. The last one was in 1995. But everyday someone's heart stops. Everyday there is potential for a fire."
Herda-Sprawka said the decision to look at other properties for a fire station "feels like bait and switch."
"The fire station millage was passed with the assumption that 11485 North Territorial was going to be the location," she said. "Once the money is in hand, it now looks like a sweet deal for those cornfield owners, one of whom happens to be the parents of (former township treasurer) Julie Knight.
"The other two properties were already looked at and already found to not be the best sites."
David Wayman, a member of the PSAC committee said he cautioned the board about moving slowly on potential locations for a fire station.
"You are going to evaluate three locations and entertain negotiations on three different properties. During that time you could find that the two new sites you are considering are not viable, and the ship might have already sailed on 11485. That's an opportunity cost," he said.
Wayman said he was also concerned that the board did not set a time frame to hear back from the search committee.
Speaking with Patch.com after Tuesday's meeting, Maciejewski expressed frustration with the board's vote.
"There was no clear direction on how to proceed," he said. "Clerk Rider's amendment to my motion just muddied the waters in terms of what we do as a board."
Maciejewski said he plans to ask the search committee for an update at the board's next meeting on March 19.