At the Monday. March 6, 2017 Ludington City Council meeting, the city council will conduct several activities in order to move the Ludington fire station from the center of the city, the heart of the downtown, and at the nucleus of older and larger buildings needing their services quick...
...to the northeast corner of the city, surrounded by school zones and far away from the downtown and the older high-fire-load buildings with poor (if any) suppression systems. As has been noted before, in my review as an ex-firefighter, I cannot see any credible reason for the move.
In Fire Station Location 201: Ludington Case Analysis, I made the general point that the move would add over 30% to the response times on average, presuming fires happen randomly scattered throughout the town. That would happen when members go en route to the station and when they are en route to the incident. This does not account for the extra time and caution that would be needed when going through all the school zones (much without proper sidewalk facilities), nor does it account that most of the problem fire areas are well away from the NE corner of Ludington. See Fire Station Location 101 for the reason why you locate fire stations as near to the epicenter of the area that they cover.
Simple math seems to be a problem for our current leaders, and it is nowhere better on display with the COLDNews article this weekend that has John Shay making some rather erratic claims:
"(Ludington City Manager) Shay said the initial cost estimate for the [construction of the new station] was $2,161,672, which exceeded the project budget of $1.7 million.
He said meetings with the architect and construction management firm reduced the estimated cost to about $1.98 million and more cost reductions would result in construction of a new fire station that would not meet the fire department’s basic needs.
The new station will be built at the former Lakeshore Lumber property on Tinkham Avenue, behind the Lakeshore Resource Network building that is being built. [The e-edition stops here, the print edition continues:]
Plans call for the city to issue $1.5 million in bonds and use $500,000 it receives for the sale of lots on the bowling alley block where the current fire station stands.
The city can then repay the bonds in part with money received by capturing tax increases for the downtown property. But Shay said that money is not expected to be enough and the city is expected to have to use general fund money to make payments after the 30th year of the bonds.
He said the city looked at the cost of renovating the current building which Shay estimated as 50 to 55 years old, at $1 million. He said since the city would not have any tax increment financing revenue from that renovation work, the city would spend as much on the renovations as it would for a new $2 million building and still have an old building.
Before looking at the large figures of money involved with the project and Shay's estimations of those, let's first look at an easy figure to refute. Shay estimates the Ludington fire hall is 50-55 years old. Funny, I recall seeing on this fire hall wall current Chief Funk as a young firefighter with his then-chief Jerry Clark posing in front of the dedication of this station, and he has been on the LFD for a little over 40 years. Sure enough, the current Ludington fire hall is only 39 years old, opening in late 1977.
Pages 36-44 of the March 6, 2017 LCC meeting packet starts off with a two page memo from John Shay where he says it is a 55 year old structure, 41% older than it actually is. This was only one of his overestimations of numbers, the fuzzy math of this article's title.
One year ago, Shay and crew were trying to tell us why the development of the bowling alley block to low-income and senior apartments through corporate welfare programs and raising local taxes was a good thing. At this time in a special meeting, he reminded us that a plan for a $1.1 to $1.2 million new fire station at the Varsity Cleaner's site on North Washington fell through in 2008 after Western Land Services decided not to build a downtown office building where the fire hall sits.
Minutes from meetings at the time indicate that the figure was $1.1 million which covered the construction and architect costs. I saw the blueprints myself at the fire station during 2008 from the same architect, and it had all the bells and whistles, including a second floor which was to be used for storage, but could be developed into living quarters if the city decided to have full-time firefighters in the future. At the time, I was on the understanding that it would cost under $1 million to construct.
Presuming this 2008 'state of the art' fire station has everything that the $1.98 million station has, perhaps less since the 'new' blueprints had to have $165,000 chopped off it to get within reason, our good old friend, the inflation calculator, says a 2008 dream station would now cost $1.24 million, not $2.16 or even 1.98 million. We're in the realm of an overestimated difference of around 40% or better again.
The city manager also claims that if for some reason the development didn't arise, renovations to the pole barn that serves as the fire station now would amount to $1 million and they would 'still have an old building'. How would you perform $1 million of renovations to a pole barn without effectively redoing everything structurally-- twice or more?
Ash Flat Fire Department is one example that illustrates this. The combination volunteer and full-time department recently investigated getting a new pole barn type structure for their fire station and balked at the $720,000 price tag. Wakarusa FD, nearly twice the size of the LFD and also featuring full-timers just had a regular building costing $1 million. The Lindsey FD moved into a $1 million new station less than a year ago and they have 34 volunteer firefighters; Ludington has 20 if they are fully-staffed.
This list could go on: Larose FD housing full-timers at just over a million due later this year to be built, Lakeview Ohio finished in December, etc. Yet Shay believes we need a million to do renovations of a pole barn that cannot cover much more area.
If that wasn't bad enough his comment about losing another million due to the city not being able to collect tax increment financing money amounting to that. Not only would it take over twenty years to realize that money if growth projections are accurate, that is not new or found money, as will be explained shortly, that is just money that the city will take from other taxing jurisdictions. The million will still come out of your taxes, but it will inefficiently trickle in to pay for the new fire hall through shortchanging every other government agency that you pay taxes to.
The fuzzy math was not limited to overestimates. When the city manager claims the revenues coming from the downtown project will almost equal the loan payments for the $1.5 million fire hall project during the first few years, he is counting on a lot of suppositions, not to mention hiding extra costs to the city that the $16 million construction entails (which will be footed by the rest of us, quietly).
The city operating tax revenue will not come in until the 31st year, due to one of the incentives for development, but there is a growing 2% Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) and a municipal service fee (MSF), an attempt by the city to make up tax revenue when the PILOT is well below the amount of taxes a business/building would normally pay. Both would need to be passed by the city council, it's not guaranteed, and the developer has no real obligation to sign a MSF agreement.
The local and state tax increment financing (TIF) schemes will make up about 70% of the revenues from the project, these too have yet to be voted on by the state and local authorities. We have reported on the inherent evil nature of TIF several times, where one created authority captures (steals) money from other legitimate taxing authorities.
Locally that would entail the County of Mason, WSCC, the City of Ludington, and a variety of other public agencies. TIFs and their kin are part of the Growth Ponzi scheme that ultimately are not sustainable, yet they are posited and hawked as the best thing ever by Smart Growth proponents and all other orthodox economic development agencies. That's because government and their connected business partners both love to soak up your tax money without doing anything for it.
So the fuzziest math of all is that the city is telling you they are raising enough funds (almost for ten years and getting a surplus thereafter) to pay for the $2 million fire station on the edge of town. When they currently have nothing lined up.
Thanks for the information X. I remember the article you wrote connecting all the dots from the old firehouse to the old lumber yard to the new firehouse then back to the new low income housing project. All involved the same cast of characters. I can't locate that article so I was wondering, when you have time, if you could find that article and post a link? We all know this was a backroom deal that will provide public money to some of Ludington's sneakiest shysters. This is the same game that the shady commissioner Riggs is trying to pull with the proposed ordinance change regarding narrow lots. God only knows what these officials are doing, in order to fill their pockets with ill gained profits at the citizens expense.
The "new" fire station in the 1977 article was a remodel of a vacant building that had been used by Larson's Moving before they moved to a new building. The fire station had been in the Municipal Building on S William St.
You probably know better than I, Dale, since I was a young lad growing up in Scottville at the time. The Daily News always referred to it as a 'new' fire hall in their coverage, so I assumed it had been either newly constructed or a greatly remodeled structure, since I never heard otherwise when I was on the department.
Oddly enough, the city assessor site has been down all day into this evening so I cannot further verify the age of the structure. Maybe they are busy making tidy profits from their sale of what used to be too small and unbuildable lots.