City to seek bond for new public safety, public service facilities

By: K. Michelle Moran, | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 10, 2017

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Three years after voters approved a new millage of as much as 2.5 mills for up to 15 years to tackle local roadwork, Grosse Pointe City officials will again be seeking voter support to fund municipal projects that officials say property taxes won’t cover.

The Aug. 8 primary election ballot is expected to contain a bond proposal that would pay for new facilities for the City Public Safety and Public Services departments. The Public Safety Department would be moving into a new building, to be constructed on Mack Avenue, while the Public Services Department would be moved to a warehouse on Detroit’s east side that would be converted for this use, City Manager Pete Dame said.

He said the municipal court would be renovated and would take over the current public safety building — which now houses only the court, not its offices, which are in City Hall because of a lack of space. Security has been an issue for the court, which doesn’t meet modern standards.

 Ceiling leaks like this one are among the problems with Grosse Pointe City’s Public Safety Department building, which dates to 1928.

Ceiling leaks like this one are among the problems with Grosse Pointe City’s Public Safety Department building, which dates to 1928.

The public safety building was constructed in 1928, while the public services building dates to 1964. Both lack adequate space to house their respective vehicles, and both are beyond renovations, say officials.

“They’ve been operating in inadequate facilities for far too long,” Dame said of both departments.

Voters would be asked in August to approve a $12.96 million bond for the project. That amount covers property acquisition along with construction and other expenses. Preliminary cost estimates put the public safety building at $8 million — which includes court-related renovations of $300,000 to $500,000 — and public services at $6.3 million. An estimated 25 percent — or $1.575 million — for the public services project would come from reserves in the water and sewer fund, Dame said. By issuing a single bond for both projects, he said, they’d be saving about $50,000 in bond issuance costs.

During a special City Council meeting May 1, the council voted 6-1 in favor of a 22-year bond, for which the rate would start at 1.718 mills and range, over the 22 years, from a high of 2.4636 mills to a low of 1.6926 mills. Because the City’s old 20-year pool bond of over 0.7 mills is slated to expire in 2020, City leaders say the millage increase would average out to around 1.7 mills annually. For the median City home, with a market value of $250,000 and a taxable value of $125,000, City officials said the increase would be about $212.50 annually.

City Councilman Christopher Boettcher preferred the 20-year option. Although it would cost residents more annually, he noted that it would only be about $2 more per month for the average City homeowner than the 22-year version, and the City would pay less for the bond overall. City Councilman John Stempfle said the 20-year bond would cost about $800,000 to $900,000 less than the 22-year bond.

However, the 22-year bond is “easier to explain,” said City Councilman Andrew Turnbull, noting that the payments are “smoother” and more consistent over the entire span of the bond. Mayor Dale Scrace said the 20-year option and the 22-year option are both fairly constant after the fourth year.

“They just start out at a slightly higher (amount),” he said.

For the last year and a half, Dame said, a special committee — made up of Dame, recently retired Public Services Director Gary Huvaere, Scrace, Boettcher and City Councilman Christopher Walsh — have been looking into ways to improve the public safety and public services facilities.

It’s an issue the City has wrestled with for years. In 2008, Dame said, the City explored the possibility of making on-site improvements to both facilities, but he said they couldn’t meet the space needs of either department on the current property.

“The biggest thing (in the public services yard) is the lack of storage for equipment,” Huvaere said. “All of our equipment is stored outdoors, so it rusts out quickly. We don’t get the life out of the equipment we should have.”

That leads to increased costs to repair or replace equipment. A related problem is road salt. Huvaere said the City doesn’t have room to store it, so the City can only purchase it in small batches, making it more costly. And the salt they do keep in one of the bays — which has a roof but is otherwise out in the open — gets wet and dirty, leading to clumping that makes it hard to apply to the roads efficiently or effectively, he said.

The lack of storage means that the City has no place for piping, water main parts or fittings, so it often need to get these parts from one of its neighbors and pay them back, Huvaere said. And if a water main breaks on the weekend, he said, there’s no place to put the dirt excavated for the repair, so the workers have to leave it in the truck, which rots out the truck bed.

Public services employees have no place to take a shower — even if they’ve been fixing a sewer all day — and a tiny employee lunch/break room is adjacent to the spot where the garbage trucks are housed.

The public safety building is likewise far from ideal at less than 8,000 square feet, Dame said.

“It’s about half the size it should be,” he said. “It’s smaller than comparable communities.”

City Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni said the department has to store a lot of its training equipment off-site, and there’s no room to train a whole shift inside its current building anyway. There are also a multitude of safety and security issues, including the lack of a sally port to transfer an arrestee from a police vehicle directly into the public safety building. Instead, police need to lead the prisoner from a vehicle in the parking lot into the public safety building for booking and interviews. All of the other Pointes have sally ports.

“Our evidence and property room does not meet current standards,” Poloni said. “We’re using a closet, basically.”

The City has a 30-year-old firefighting pumper truck that needs to be replaced, but Poloni said the new full-size pumpers are taller and longer, so they wouldn’t fit in the current garage. In addition, he said that there’s no room in the garage to work on any of the public safety vehicles.

“We literally have to take (a vehicle) outside and work on it in the rain,” Poloni said.

The lack of space means that the City needs to take its public safety vehicles to auto service shops for oil changes and repairs, so it has to pay commercial rates for these services instead of being able to get them done in-house by City employees, Poloni said.

“So it affects our budget,” he said.

Dame said the public safety building has been subject to several remodeling efforts during its history, but it now has a series of systems — including heating and cooling — that aren’t compatible with one another.

“It’s been Band-Aid after Band-Aid. … It’s a hodgepodge of systems,” he said.

Huvaere said that means it’s impossible to make the building energy-efficient.

Municipal finance advisor Robert Bendzinski told the City Council that officials are conservatively assuming the bonds would sell at an interest rate of 4.5 percent. If the bond issue passes with voters, he said the bonds would be issued in 2018.

The city’s bond counsel, Patrick McGow, of Miller Canfield, said that while City leaders couldn’t advocate for passage of the ballot proposal, they could make efforts to explain it to residents.

“You are allowed to provide factual public information,” he said.

Dame said the City hopes to hold a public information meeting on the proposal, possibly including a tour of the public safety and public services facilities.

“The state of the buildings sells the need,” he said. “I don’t know how you could say no.”

A date for this meeting hadn’t been set at press time.

Although the millage rate would fluctuate a bit from year to year, Bendzinski said that for a 22-year bond, it would average out to about 2.3479 mills. For a 20-year bond, he said the millage would average out to about 2.5092; for a 25-year bond, he said the average would be 2.1543 mills.

McGow told officials that “in order to get on the August ballot,” the City needed to approve its ballot language in time to submit it to the City clerk by the deadline of 4 p.m. May 16. Because the regular May City Council meeting wasn’t until May 15, the council held a special meeting to discuss the bond proposal in order to give City administrators time to prepare appropriate ballot language. McGow said the state mandates that such language be finalized 16 weeks before the election.

After the meeting, City Councilman Christopher Walsh said City officials determined after extensive study that a voter-approved bond was the only viable option.

“We’ve studied this matter for months to figure out a solution to get our facilities to match our community,” he said.

But City leaders know that the bond is far from a done deal, since it still needs voter approval.

“This is the first step, to authorize the staff and the consultants to prepare ballot language for the August election,” Scrace said after the meeting.