Ontonagon looking to take care of volunteer firefighers

Petitions supporting Ontonagon village’s volunteer firefighters and other emergency personnel are in several area businesses.

Spurred by unsubstantiated reports in other media that the state attorney general was investigating the village’s practice of not taxing nominal firefighter reimbursements and other irregularities revealed in its annual public financial audits, Cis Warren decided to put petitions in several businesses asking legislators to allow all emergency service providers to earn up to $1,000 a year tax-free.

“It’s all bogus,” Warren said of the allegations, adding people can sign the petitions at the Citgo, Eagles, Shamrock, Lynn’s Cafe, Roxey’s, Stubb’s, Syl’s, Connie’s, U Save, Blake’s, Carquest, and banks in White Pine and Mass City, before they will be sent to President Donald Trump, Gov. Rick Snyder, U.S. Senators Gary Peters, and Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet.

The petition calls on the politicians to create a law enabling emergency services volunteers earning under $1,000 to be exempt from taxes.

“Small rural communities are dependent on volunteers to provide emergency services to enable our communities to survive,” the petition says.

Ontonagon Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Miles said he appreciates the community and village council support.

“The community has always been behind us,” Miles said. “Right now there’s a really good mix of minds (on the Village Council)” he said. “They’re not letting these (people) intimidate them.”

Miles said he looks forward to working with the village to rectify the matter.

Although she’s critical of the village, Sue Lockhart never intended to be pitted against the volunteer firemen. However, Lockhart, who resides outside the village limits in Ontonagon Township, was the only source cited in a story last Tuesday on TV6 citing residents’ concerns about the village’s financial audits and allegations that the AG’s office will investigate this month.

When the Attorney General’s Office and the Michigan Department of the Treasury denied the reports, Lockhart told the Daily Mining Gazette she got the information from Sen. Tom Casperson’s office. When Casperson’s office denied any knowledge of an investigation, Lockhart specified Dr. Kirk Schott made the claim at a recent meeting of the Republican Party.

Schott did say he is a part-time representative for Casperson in a phone interview Thursday. However, Schott said he was repeating information he got from village resident and recently failed village president candidate Bill Johnson, who has made allegations of wrongdoing against the president and council at several recent Village Council meetings.

When pressed about his specific knowledge of AG involvement, Schott said the only investigation he knew of for sure concerned a complaint Johnson filed against the village with the Michigan State Police-Wakefield Post. While the post confirmed there is an active complaint against the village, the officer investigating that claim could not be reached for clarification, as he is out of the office until later this week.

Schott said he may have inadvertently caused the confusion with the AG being involved, since someone from Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office will be conducting an anti-bullying program at the Ewen-Trout Creek Schools on Wednesday. In addition to being an eye doctor in the area, Schott is the president of the E-TC School Board.

When informed of Schott’s responses, Lockhart vehemently denied Johnson had anything to do with her criticism of the village’s accounting procedures, despite being interviewed on TV6 last week.

“Bill was not involved at all,” Lockhart said. “If anyone misled anyone, it was Mr. Schott. Bill had nothing to do with this. He only made the complaint on the Open Meetings Act and his wife’s other issue regarding her business.”

Lockhart hinted the village would be sanctioned but declined to say anything more specific than the following: “There is an auditor coming to town next week, and she called me and asked if I would meet with her. That’s not coming from Mr. Schott. That’s the truth.”

Lockhart did not respond to a followup question about who the auditor was or who the auditor works for.

In the meantime, Erickson said he’s working to make the fire department a nonprofit organization in order to straighten out the financial accounts and will ask the council to offer life insurance to each firefighter.

“Oh yeah,” Miles said, responding to the idea of getting life insurance. “Personally right now I don’t have life insurance. My family won’t have to worry about it” if anything happens to him, Miles said.