|Robert J. Long is owner and operator of the Long Family Orchard and Farm. He has been a Commerce trustee since 1996, and has been a member of the township’s Parks and Recreation Committee since 1998. He is past director of the Oakland County Soil and Water Conservation District.|
Robert J. Long is among six Republican candidates competing in the Aug. 7 primary election for Commerce Township trustee positions. With no Democrats filed in the race, the four Republicans receiving the most votes on Aug. 7 will be unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election race for four trustee positions. Commerce Township trustees serve four-year terms and are currently paid $100 per meeting.
The following are questions we recently posed to Long, and his responses to those questions.
BUDGET: Years of revenue decline prompted by falling home values and other reasons have forced a variety of budget cuts. What changes in township budgeting priorities or processes do you advocate to deal with these hurdles? Where could the township’s budget be trimmed back? What, if anything, in the budget should be held harmless from the budget ax?
LONG: Considering the difficult budget times, I will continue to review township spending with diligence. Planning for revenue decreases and constant budget amendments has become normalcy. We must continue to be responsive to the needs of our constituents by maintaining the services that provide the greatest possible benefit, such as police and fire protection.
MARTIN PARKWAY: The current economic climate and deterioration in the real estate market has hindered the Downtown Development Authority’s ability to sell the DDA property along Martin Parkway to developers for local and national retail stores. Now the township has to help repay DDA bonds. What, if anything, needs to be done differently to ensure that land can be developed? What is your vision for that area of Commerce Township, and the development of the township in general?
LONG: Commerce Township needs to aggressively market the Martin Parkway property. While the Township needs to be business-friendly, they must make sure any development is esthetically pleasing.
I envision the area with shops and restaurants creating a “downtown” for Commerce. These new businesses would generate the much needed revenue to pay off the DDA bonds.
PARKS AND RECREATION: The township has for some time been in the process of acquiring a portion of the Proud Lake Recreation Area, a final step in which has been put on hold because of state payments in lieu of taxes. Does the township need more open space? Why or why not? What additional steps, if any, would you like the township to take to make sure residents have abundant parks and recreation opportunities?
LONG: Public open space, and the opportunities it provides is one of the most valuable assets a community can have. Soon, Commerce Township will own 1,200 acres, or 2 square miles. That’s over 7 percent of the entire area of the township.
Although available land opportunities should be considered, privately owned taxable land is necessary to financially support public space.
There are endless options to support our parks with passive and additional recreational uses. An example is the 3-phase Dodge Park improvement master plan, of which the lowest cost Phase 1 is complete with outstanding results.
WATER TOWER: The proposed location of a $5.8-million water tower in Commerce Township that would save $1.3 million annually was recently nixed after residents of the area originally considered for the tower protested. Explain why you do or don’t support the proposed water tower project. If you support construction of a water tower, where should it be placed and why?
LONG: Detroit charges Commerce Township the very highest wholesale price for water. Residents deserve a lower water rate. Some Township officials speculate that a water tower could result in lower rates. The Detroit Water Department is yet unwilling to commit to a rate adjustment in our contract if a water tower is built. Without their assurance, I am skeptical that Detroit will actually adjust our rate favorably as hoped.
Regarding placement, when the subdivision site became controversial, I offered to donate a site on our farm that would not impact residents. After that, there became a more suitable site on township property that should not impact residents, nor parks.
HAGGERTY ROAD: There has long been a stalemate between Commerce and West Bloomfield townships about Commerce’s desire to widen the two-lane stretch of road between Pontiac Trail and Richardson Road. Do you support widening Haggerty to allow for better traffic flow? Why or why not? If so, what can or should the township do to see the proposal to fruition?
LONG: The completion of the M-5 extension has alleviated some of the congestion on Haggerty Road. However, during peak hours the traffic still backs up between Pontiac Trail and Richardson Road, making the commute for residents and non-residents unreasonable. I do support widening Haggerty Road, although with the current economic conditions, sources of funding are unlikely. West Bloomfield Township residents are a significant burden to Haggerty Road traffic as they shop in Commerce. West Bloomfield’s master plan specifically objects to the widening of Haggerty Road. It is unlikely state or federal funding would be forthcoming until West Bloomfield becomes more responsive to the needs of their residents, and remove the objection from their master plan.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the township, and how do you propose to address them?
LONG: 1) Budget limitations due to faltering property values resulting in stagnant property tax revenue, and the uncertainty of state shared revenue will justly force local officials to continually scrutinize expenditures. My priorities are focused on a balance of available revenue, and the needs of the community.
2) It is imperative to provide quality services while continuing to levy one of the lowest tax rates in Oakland County.
3) Aggressively market the property along the M-5 corridor owned by the Downtown Development Authority. Selling DDA land as intended is imperative to enable the retirement of nearly $85 million in bonds without sacrifice to the township operating budget. The sale and improvement of the property along the M-5 extension will generate increased revenue from that development to perpetually pay down the massive DDA debt without burden to taxpayers.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponent?
LONG: As a township trustee, I base my fiscal decisions on an underlying appreciation that every dollar of public money was hard-earned by the taxpayers, including myself, and strive to spend public money with the same prudence that I spend my own. Most of all, I am highly visible and available before my constituents and have a genuine concern for the future of Commerce Township.