MACOMB TOWNSHIP — When township voters head to the polls on Aug. 5 to cast their ballots in the primary election, there will only be one item to decide at the municipal level: a millage proposal to continue the Fire Department’s funding for another decade.
The Macomb Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously on April 23 to place the item on the August ballot. Township Clerk Michael Koehs stressed that the proposal is “not a tax increase, only a renewal” of the Fire Department’s current revenue source.
Koehs pointed out that if approved, the millage plan would run for a 10-year period from March 20, 2015, through March 19, 2025. It would authorize township officials to levy up to 2 mills for the Fire Department’s equipment and operations, but for the last few years, they have kept the rate locked at 1.0588 mills.
Fire Chief Robert Phillips feels fairly confident that township residents will vote to continue this rate, which provides his department’s entire annual budget.
“I certainly hope that people support this millage,” he said. “I believe that we provide a good service at a very reasonable cost for our residents. We do have a healthy fund balance that we could fall back on for a little while if this doesn’t pass, but we really have no other revenue source at this time.”
Koehs agreed, offering a blunt assessment of the proposal’s necessity for the township.
“I’ve never heard of a community that didn’t want to have a fire department,” he said, “So I can’t imagine that this would fail. But if for some reason it doesn’t pass, the township could choose to use its reserves to continue to fund the Fire Department for a limited time.”
Macomb Township’s fund balance is projected to exceed $30 million by the end of the current fiscal year, while officials budgeted for Fire Department expenditures of about $3.3 million in 2013-14.
Koehs estimated that the current fire millage plan has been in place for at least 18 years, but he noted that township residents have been paying some level of taxes ever since the Macomb Township Fire Department was established in the 1950s.
“I don’t know the exact year that this was created, to be honest,” the clerk said. He then added with a laugh, “We don’t look at when it started — we just look at when it’s ending.”
Koehs explained that he brought the millage proposal before the Board of Trustees when he did because the filing deadline was looming on April 29. Meanwhile, the written language that will appear on the August ballot is due by May 13. Koehs indicated that the board’s legal counsel is currently reviewing the final wording of the proposal.
“We just didn’t want to let this get away from us,” he said. “This was our last opportunity to get it on the ballot in August.”
As Phillips pointed out, though, if the proposal is not approved in the primary election, township officials would still have the option to bring it before voters again in the November general election.
In 2010, the Board of Trustees voted to lower the Fire Department’s millage rate by 0.1912 mills, from 1.25 mills to its existing rate. At the same time, the board essentially moved those funds over to the township’s police services, increasing its millage rate to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department by the same amount. Phillips stated that although he has had to dip into the Fire Department’s fund balance a little bit each year to cover its expenses, this decrease in funding has not negatively impacted its day-to-day operations.
“We have not had to lay anyone off or make any of the big service cuts that other departments have made,” the chief said, “so we’ve been very fortunate.”
Phillips was also proud to highlight his department’s financial transparency.
“We have nothing to hide — everything we do is pretty open to the public,” he said. “People can find our full budget on the township website, and if they have any questions, they can always feel free to call us here at the Fire Department.”
For financial information on the Macomb Township Fire Department, visit www.macomb-mi.gov and click on the “Finance/Purchasing” tab, or call (586) 677-1262.