Shelby TownshipJanuary 29, 2013
Pension reform, balanced budget highlight Shelby Township’s 2013 goals
By Brad D. Bates
C & G Staff Writer
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — While quick to rave about quality-of-life programs and consecutive budget surpluses, Shelby Township Supervisor Richard Stathakis didn’t shy away from discussing the $26 million elephant in his community.
During the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s annual Heritage Luncheon Jan. 23 at Cherry Creek Banquet Center, Stathakis took the initiative to discuss how his community’s top priority in 2013 was addressing underfunded police and fire pension funds.
“The No. 1 priority in Shelby Township was to reform police and fire pensions, and that’s what were dedicating a lot of our resources to,” Stathakis said, noting that pension reform was the top priority, as voted on by the Board of Trustees, township department heads and residents.
Stathakis outlined his wish to reconstruct the pension system for police and fire employees away from the defined-benefit system currently in place to a defined-contribution system, similar to a 401(k) plan, that mirrors the retirement benefits in place for general township employees.
“It’s not the fault of these firemen or police officers; they simply took what was given to them,” Stathakis said. “It was the politicians at the local and state levels that created these packages in the 1970s and 1980s, and the ones in the 1990s that didn’t do anything about it,” Stathakis said.
“We couldn’t afford that program 30 to 40 years ago, and we can’t afford it now. We need to bring fiscal sanity back to this pension program. We’re upside-down $26 million, and this party needs to be over.”
Stathakis said he was humbled by his re-election to supervisor at the end of 2012, but believes that, with the re-election of six board members, he now has the public’s support to address the underfunded pensions
“I was really humbled and honored to be elected,” said Stathakis, who ran for re-election on the slogan, “Stand with me to reform pensions.”
“And six of the fiscal conservatives returned to the board, so we’re going to be able to finish our four-year record of progress, which, of course, is no new taxes and no decrease in services.
“We are going to plow ahead and make sure we balance the budget, and we are going to look at reforming the pensions in Shelby Township,” Stathakis added. “It’s important to know we’re loaded with fiscal conservatives, and we’re going to take what money we have and spend it wisely.”
Shelby Township wasn’t the only community at the luncheon, which featured Stathakis, Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan and Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte answering questions from Chamber Board Chairman Clark Andrews to discuss economic hardships.
Notte also addressed his community’s trouble with funding programs because of reduced revenues.
“The state balances their budget on the backs of cities, townships and villages,” Notte said. “In 2001, the city of Sterling Heights got $5.3 million (from the state). In 2012, we got $600,000. That’s a pretty big difference, and we still give our community the same services that we have been giving.”
While Notte mentioned the option of a special public safety millage ballot proposal to fund police and fire, Stathakis remained fervent about his commitment to balancing a budget without increasing taxes.
“We are not going to raise taxes in Shelby Township, period,” Stathakis said. “The folks in Shelby Township are hurting just like in Sterling Heights and Utica.
“They’re unemployed or underemployed. A lot of folks are one or two paychecks away from disaster, so we don’t want to push them any harder than they’ve already been pushed. We need to figure out what we can do with what we have.
“We want to continually improve and negotiate (labor) contracts the best we can, but we reserve the right to lay off,” Stathakis added. “And we will balance the budget any way we can without raising taxes.”