Police, fire millage renewals on August ballot

If approved, no financial increase for township taxpayers 

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 7, 2018

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Clinton Township residents will have a say at the ballot box later this year regarding the future of their police and fire departments.

On Feb. 20, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees approved 7-0 to place both police and fire millages on the Aug. 7 ballot. Both millages are renewals of previously approved millages, with taxpayers seeing no financial increase if they are approved again.

Currently, two police millages expire in 2019 and 2025, after voters approved 1 mill in 2013. Assistant Finance Director Mary Hein said tentative numbers have this year’s police renewal at 0.9905 mills, for a period of six years, from 2020 to 2025, raising approximately $2.7 million for police apparatus and operational costs.

“It would keep our police department whole. … This is what the voters in our community wanted,” Supervisor Bob Cannon said Feb. 20. “We had a citizens committee put together the numbers several years ago, and again, that’s what was voted on. It’s simply a renewal.”

Treasurer Paul Gieleghem said severe staffing reductions due to the 2008 recession have impacted the department, although the 2013 millage helped keep it whole. The department formerly had 103 sworn officers. The current number of 93 sworn officers would be stabilized with a successful renewal.

“(In 2013), what we proposed to the voters is that if we can increase this by 1 mill, it won’t get us back to where we were, but it will get us to 93 sworn officers, which we believe is a manageable level,” Gieleghem said Feb. 20.

Police Chief Fred Posavetz said his department needs the renewal to maintain his officer base, while continuing to provide great service to residents.

“It’s got to (pass) because we’re running out of time, and it’s critical to the daily operations of the police department,” Posavetz said. “Without that money, we would be seriously hampered in service to our community.”

In 2002, voters approved 1 mill toward the fire department, with another 1.25 mills authorized in 2013. The millages provided approximately $6 million in additional revenue in terms of staffing and operational costs.

Cannon said that since both fire millages expire simultaneously, bond counsel recommended combining both millages for an eight-year period, from 2022 to 2029. It would result in an estimated 2.2069 mills.

Township Fire Chief Timothy Duncan said he and his department can’t thank the community enough for supporting past millages and, in turn, the department.

“It is crucial for the future of the fire department,” Duncan said. “Prior to the economic downturn, we had 84 firefighters operating out of our suppression division. At present, we are handling a run volume that has increased from about 8,000 runs a year with seven vehicles, to near 13,000 runs a year with six vehicles, and we are doing that with 67 firefighters in suppression. We have also cut back in our training and fire prevention divisions.”

Even if successful, there will be a slight financial decrease to the department due to rollbacks resulting from the Headlee Amendment, but it would still function and operate with 67 firefighters.

“Failure of the renewal will cause dramatic changes to the level of service our department can provide,” Duncan said. “A decrease to the department’s budget could only be covered by a decrease in the number of firefighters that serve our residents. Since we have already reduced this number from 84 to 67, it would be difficult to foresee how we would be able to deliver the high quality of service this township deserves.”

Cannon later elaborated, saying not putting police and fire renewals on the ballot this year would lead to renewals on the 2020 ballot — which would pose a conflict with numerous Board of Trustees members facing re-election. He said he “didn’t want to take a chance with full board cooperation.”

Like Duncan, he understands the urgency the departments face if either or both millages fail at the hands of the voters.

“We would, as a board, have to make a decision to ask the voters do it again, do it again at a lower amount, or drastically reduce the staff in the department the millage didn’t pass in. … I’m hopeful and prayerful, because if not, we will not have the quality departments we have now,” Cannon added. “I think our residents have come to respect and deserve service from public safety.”