West Bloomfield Township voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8 to decided a number of contested school board races and cast votes on a pair of township millage proposals that would support both police and fire services. Look for our candidate endorsements in the West Bloomfield School Board race in the Wednesday, Nov. 2 edition of the Spinal Column Newsweekly, as this week we turn our attention to the two public safety millage proposals. After considering the two ballot questions and discussing them with township officials, we’re urging a YES vote on both proposals.
The first ballot question seeks to renew the township’s existing public safety millage at its current rate of 3.1378 mills for 10 years. If authorized by voters, the renewed millage would be collected from 2012 to 2021. It’s estimated that the renewed millage would collect as much as $9.94 million in its first year to help fund the West Bloomfield police and fire departments.
The second ballot question asks voters to approve an 11-year increase of 2.85 mills. If approved by voters, this new millage would be collected from 2011 through 2021 and is estimated to generate up to $9.03 million in its first year to support public safety services.
A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. The owner of a township property with a taxable value of $100,000 ($200,000 market value) currently pays $313.78 a year in property taxes for public safety services and would continue to pay that amount if the existing millage is renewed. The owner of the same property would pay an additional $285 a year in property taxes — for a total of $598.75 — to support police and fire services if the existing millage is renewed and the proposed increase is approved.
No one should be surprised that the township seeks a renewal of its existing millage — asking for renewal of an existing millage that’s about to expire is standard procedure in any municipality. What’s important to note here is that the first ballot question isn’t requesting a restoration of the original millage rate previously approved by voters, but merely a renewal at the existing, reduced rate following years of Headlee Amendment rollbacks.
It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that the township has placed a second ballot question seeking a millage increase before voters. This, too, is becoming common practice across the state, as dropping property values have taken a big bite out of property tax revenues. West Bloomfield has lost an estimated $1 billion in taxable property value since 2008, which has drastically curtailed its tax collections. A lower total taxable value of the community multiplied by the same millage rate over 10 years means much less tax revenue for the police and fire departments.
Both departments have made cuts over the past several years as it became evident that declining property values would result in significantly lower property tax collections. For example, the fire department has privatized mechanical services, cut overtime by 61 percent, joined a national supply consortium, sought new bids on vendor contracts, shifted to refurbishing apparatus instead of purchasing replacements, downsized ambulances, looked for shared service agreements, obtained federal funding to complete “green” initiatives, and negotiated concessions from department personnel — all to save money and do more with less.
At the same time, and despite these cutbacks, the department has been able to improve its ISO rating, which has resulted in an estimated $1.2 million in savings in insurance costs for township homeowners. It’s also handling a 4 to 7 percent annual hike in calls. An aging population makes it reasonable to expect continued growth in the number of calls made for fire department services.
For its part, the police department has whittled back on personnel by 10 police officers over the past three years, moving from 81 officers to the current 71. The department has also cut back on administrative positions, eliminating the deputy chief job, two lieutenant positions, and a sergeant job. Like the fire department, the police department has been aggressive in seeking out grants and has been able to gain concessions from its unionized employees to save additional money.
We’re convinced the departments have been good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. Both need these millage proposals approved in order to maintain — not expand — existing police and fire services.
Township officials state the existing public safety millage provides about 45 percent of the departments’ operating funds. The new millage would offset losses in property tax revenue over the past few years and provide about 20 percent of the the departments’ current operating budgets. The township’s general fund — itself also hit hard by a declining revenue stream — makes up most of the remaining funding.
Without two YES votes on Nov. 8, both departments will have to make significant cuts in existing services and operations. That wouldn’t bode well for the community. At the risk of offending some, it’s nice to have parks and recreation programs or an up-to-date library; but, the police and fire departments provide critical services that are sometimes a matter of life or death for those needing those services.
Please vote YES on both ballot questions on Nov. 8 to maintain existing police and fire services in the township. o