Dexter Council Addresses Concerns of Ambiguity Over Fire Station Proposal

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Dexter’s current fire station at 8140 Main St (credit: Google Streetview) with conceptual rendering of remodel (credit: Partners in Architecture)

In less than four weeks, Dexter voters will decide on the long-awaited fire station millage.

To help inform voters, the City Council held an informational meeting on Thursday, Oct 13, for residents to ask questions about the ballot proposal and plans to update the city’s public safety.

On Nov 8, residents will vote on a proposed two mils (for 20 years) projected to generate $8.4 million for the construction of a new fire station (at Meadow View Ct and Ann Arbor St) or renovation of the current one (at 8140 Main St).

See article: Two Dexter Fire Station Options in Artist Renderings with Price Tags

Back in August, when the council approved the ballot proposal, Mayor Keough noted the proposal’s language gives the city flexibility with several options for public safety services:

  • Construct a new facility for both at the corner of Meadow View Dr. and Ann Arbor St., albeit smaller than initially conceived.
  • Construct a new facility for the fire department there and renovate the current property for the sheriff substation.
  • Renovate the current facility for both services.

This flexibility has been a sticking point for some. Much of the informational meeting’s discussion revolved around what one attendee described as the “ambiguity” of the ballot proposal in that no specific plan has been attached to the money requested.

City owned property at Meadow View Ct and Ann Arbor St (credit: Google Streetview) with conceptual rendering of a fire station built there (credit: Partners in Architecture).

Mayor Keough reiterated what he has stated in the past, that the council decided the most crucial question is the amount the public is willing to support. In approving the proposal amount of $8.4 million, a majority of the council favored letting residents establish the amount to be spent and fitting the plans into that budget. A higher amount of approximately $12 million was considered, but a majority of the council was uncomfortable asking residents for that amount.

Councilmember Michels opposed the ballot proposal favoring planning the fire station first and then putting the price tag out for public approval.

“We have not prepared a new needs assessment,” said Michels at the meeting. “We have done that previously, and that requires a much larger building than what this money would do.”

Michels also pointed out that a fire station meeting a former needs assessment could have been built for $7.9 million in 2020. “But, if you figure in the inflation cost escalation for 2023, that same station will cost over $12 million,” he added.

Michels isn’t hesitant about presenting the higher number before voters, saying, “I have found that Dexter residents are very smart if you present the reason why you're asking for the public funds, what it is going to be invested in. They understand.”

Councilmember Griffin also preferred having a more detailed plan for different reasons than Michels. She expressed an interest in the possibility of developing both sites where the current fire hall could be refurbished into a public building for events like the Winter Marketplace and other meetings.

David Gasson of Partners in Architecture reviews the plans for both sites. Photo by Doug Marrin.

“I do see a lot of potential at the current site for other things,” said Griffin. “As a council, we have not explored those in detail. I see other uses there that might better serve the public in that location and be a better use of what’s physically there in that space.”

“The other thing I have heard from residents regarding the specificity of this or lack thereof is I do feel like people are looking to us to come up with a specific plan,” added Griffin.

Some audience members compared the fire station proposal to August's failed recreational millage request. Critics of the failed proposal said it lacked specificity, implying the money could be spent on things other than what voters approved.

City Treasurer Marie Sherrie spoke to that sentiment, saying, “When we bond for capital projects, we will have the design-build done ahead of time, and then we’ll go out for bond based on the information that comes back from that. So, if this were to be approved, we wouldn’t be running right out and bonding immediately. We’d go through the process of getting the designs and bids. At that point, we go out for bond. All those decisions will need to be made before we’re actually letting any millage on a bond.”

DAFD Fire Chief Doug Armstrong pointed out that substations in Dexter Twp and Webster Twp ease the burden for the City of Dexter station. “As the department grows, and as we add firefighters, we’re going to add them at the substations, which is going to reduce the need for firefighters in the city.”

Armstrong also noted the recent planning push to answer the question, “Can we get something that is functional and really serves our needs for the cost that we think is reasonable to ask people to fund?”

“The answer to that question is, ‘Yes,’” he concluded.

Architect David Gasson of Partners in Architecture gave an overview of the two concepts—building a new station at Meadow View Ct or refurbishing the current station. Both have approximately the same price tag. When asked which plan allowed room for growth to meet Dexter’s development, he replied, “The MAVD (Meadow View Ct) site, without a doubt. There is room for more construction like outbuildings if they are needed.”

Mayor Keough emphasized that the entire process has been and will continue to be transparent. He explained that if the proposal is approved, then the council will bring plans for each site back for public input in deciding which location to use.

The ballot proposal can be found in the Sun Times News article Dexter Submits Ballot Proposal for New Fire Station.

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