Saving Money from Sharing Services?

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A ceremonial groundbreaking and the real one happening behind it Tuesday morning mark the site for a new headquarters for a shared fire department in northeast Ingham County.

The leaders of some of the six communities it's served for nine years say it's been a good deal for taxpayers.

"We have quicker, faster -- more services for the township residents," Williamstown Township Supervisor Mickey Martin said.

But has it actually saved money? Taxpayers probably haven't seen a lower bill.

"The tax burden just gets shifted from one of column in the tax bill to a different column," Williamston Mayor Kenneth Zichi said.

That's because the new department has used its bigger budget to hire full-time firefighters and buy new vehicles -- needed upgrades, the leaders say.

It would have cost the old separate departments more per resident to do the same thing.

LeRoy Township Supervisor Neil West figures his residents are probably saving a mill on their taxes.

"We can do it cheaper by joining forces instead of trying to do it individually," West said.

But could something like the Northeast Ingham Emergency Service Authority work closer to Lansing?

"Could I see it happening? Absolutely," Mayor Virg Bernero said. "Is there a potential for savings? Huge."

Bernero says discussions are continuing among fire departments in and around Lansing.

"It's much slower than I would like of course," he said.

One thing could speed it up: Governor Jennifer Granholm has proposed giving cities and townships incentives for sharing services in the form of more state money.

"It's something that we will fight for," said Liz Boyd, a spokeswoman for Granholm. "But in the early going of the 2008 budget discussions, it has not made its way into the general government budget on the Senate side."

The House has not taken up the measure.

If the state doesn't push consolidation and cities don't do it themselves for fear of losing their individual departments, the authority could provide one more lesson.

"We keep the same names, we're just working together," West said of the department that serves Webberville and Williamston as well as LeRoy, Locke, Wheatfield and Williamstown townships.

"It's a good deal."

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