CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Township officials agree something has to be done about funding for the police and fire departments, which have had to make do in recent years with fewer personnel.
But the question of what, exactly, should be done will be left to two citizens committees. On Feb. 4, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted 6-0 to form the committees, in light of dramatic declines to revenue in the departments.
“We’re getting short in both critical departments, and we’re going to get shorter,” said Township Supervisor Robert Cannon, who proposed the citizens committees during his Jan. 25 State of the Township address. “The only way we’ve been able to balance the budget was through very conservative financial efforts, very little spending on equipment we need … and the fact that we have had concessions (from unions).”
One committee will be focused on police funding, and the other on fire funding. Once their membership is decided, they will gather data and come to the Board of Trustees — hopefully by May 1, Cannon said — with recommendations on what the appropriate police and fire staffing levels should be, as well as what mill rates are needed to support that throughout a 10-year span.
The supervisor said the committees will be comprised of a yet-to-be-decided number of township residents, not political activists.
And in order to maintain the fairness of the selection process, the supervisor has asked six local community and business leaders — all, he said, with a vested interest in Clinton Township — to screen the applicants. Then, another four-person committee would interview those candidates who make it through the screening; community leaders from various backgrounds — Frank Marella, Mike Nickerson, Stephanie Russell and Joe Wentrek — will make up this committee.
Township finance department officials also would be an active part of both committees, as would the township police and fire chiefs, or designees of their choosing.
In Clinton Township — which, with about 100,000 residents, is the most populous township and 10th most populous municipality in Michigan — general fund dollars aren’t used to pay for public services. Instead, the departments are primarily funded through special millages.
“We do currently have good protection, but we can’t continue this downward trend,” Cannon said.
Based on township finance data, Cannon suggested a 1-mill increase for police and 1.25-mill increase for fire to recoup some of the dollars lost as a result of taxpayers paying fewer property tax dollars. However, he stressed that these figures were just a starting point for discussion, and that the final recommendations would be left up to the committees.
All told, the township currently assesses 6.5 mills for police service and nearly 5 mills for fire services. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.
If either, or both, of the citizens committees end up recommending a millage increase of any size, the township could put the issue to a township-wide election in August or November 2013. The cost of holding a special election would fall around $56,000, Cannon said.
However, any potentially approved millage increase would not go into effect until, at earliest, next winter.
Without more funding, the supervisor said, the departments will continue to lose manpower, since the primary source of revenue for both — property tax revenues — have fallen dramatically in recent years. As a result, the township has not been replacing retiring personnel, and public safety staffing levels are down to their lowest levels in recent memory.
Township trustees noted that there were still unknowns that potentially could impact the committees’ recommendations — among them, an unsettled firefighters union contract and the possibility of receiving a federal grant to restore staffing levels. However, trustees generally agreed that the township shouldn’t delay addressing the police and fire funding issue.
Township Attorney Jack Dolan said that, since the committees are simply advisory committees and not actually deciding public issues, its meetings wouldn’t be subject to the open-meetings mandate.
But Cannon said afterward that he will make the sessions open to the public, though only committee members would be allowed to speak. The meetings will not be televised, he said.
Though the township Board of Trustees has the authority to raise or lower the millage on its own, Cannon said the reason for the citens committees and public vote is that the public should be allowed to weigh in on the issue because it affects them.
“I believe we will be in trouble in this community, public safety-wise, if we don’t do something,” he said at the Feb. 4 meeting.
As of press time on Feb. 6, Cannon had already received eight applications, he said.
Applicants can send information about themselves, along with an explanation of why they want to sit on the committees, to the Clinton Township supervisor’s office at 40700 Romeo Plank Road, Clinton Township, MI 48038. The supervisor can also be emailed at email@example.com.