Remember the events that shaped 2013
By Sarah Wojcik
January 1, 2014
This first issue of the Shelby-Utica News in 2014 will take a look back at 2013, featuring photos and blurbs on the most notable occurrences in three categories: government, community and crime.
Shelby Township Police Dept. looks to save money
If the Police Department does not take action, it is projected to be insolvent by 2017 due primarily to a declining property tax base the last five years — 90 percent of the department’s revenue comes from taxes — and to personnel costs, which make up 88 percent of the department’s expenditures, according to financial consultant John Kaczor.
The police general fund’s balance is $8 million; Kaczor said the department lost $7.5 million since 2008 in declining tax revenue.
Reforming police and fire pensions is the No. 1 priority of the township’s 2013-14 top 10 priorities. Supervisor Rick Stathakis cited a $1.67 million operating deficit, a $13.2 million pension lia bility and $29.2 million in unfunded legacy costs as the Police Department’s financial shortcomings.
Kaczor presented more than a dozen options to the Board of Trustees, most of which the board voted to cross off, including contracting police services to the county, sharing police services with neighboring communities, increasing taxes, borrowing money from other departments and using money from the township’s general fund to support the police fund.
Police Chief Roland Woelkers said the department would save money by establishing a hiring freeze, by not replacing a patrolman and two command officers who will retire in the next budget year, and by reducing the amount of money going toward retirement costs.
Because of the retirement of supervisors in the narcotics and traffic bureaus, the hiring freeze and the board’s encouragement to find more ways to save money, Woelkers proposed cutting the narcotics and traffic bureaus at the last work session Nov. 13, but the board said no.
“We only have so many people with so many responsibilities, so if we keep the narcotics squad, and if we’re mandated by the board to reduce our staff, we have to cut somewhere else … and that’s not going to be comfortable, either,” Woelkers said then. “It’s a decision the board has to make between revenue and cutting services, and hiring new people.”
Woelkers will return in 2014 to present different money-saving options to the board, although he cautioned that they would not like them, either.
Shelby Township board settles Nightingale lawsuit
The Shelby Township Board of Trustees voted 6-1 Nov. 19 to settle a lawsuit filed against them by one of their own members in the amount of $745,000 to avoid a trial in front of a jury and added costs.
Trustee Nick Nightingale, elected in November 2012, was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed earlier in 2012 against the township and board members Paul Viar, Paula Filar, Michael Flynn, Doug Wozniak and Rick Stathakis for violating the Nightingale family’s first amendment rights.
Nightingale’s attorney, Sarah Prescott, said family members from Nightingale Service and Towing publically participated in the effort to bring about a recall election in 2011 for Viar, Flynn and Stathakis while in the midst of a three-year contract with the township, and the board unfairly terminated the contract in retaliation.
The settlement, combined with township legal fees of nearly $300,000, cost more than $1 million.
After filing a Freedom of Information Act request, the Shelby-Utica News learned that officials took the money from the police general fund. Although the township’s insurer paid $500,000 at the last minute, the police fund subsidized $544,000 of the Nightingale lawsuit settlement.
“We were informed by our auditing firm Plante Moran that, since all revenues from the towing contract were always revenues of the police fund, we would expect to see all expenses related to the towing contract to be expenses of the police fund, including any expenses and related insurance reimbursements pertaining to the Nightingale lawsuit. There is absolutely no reason or accounting principle that would direct the township to charge these costs or allocate the reimbursements to any other fund. We cannot ask departments and operations such as Parks and Recreation, the Senior Center, the library, Building, Planning, Human Resources, Assessing, Fire or the DPW to incur these expenses, just as we would not force the Police Department to cover any legal expenses stemming from these other township departments and operations, such as the recent TIGS settlement,” Supervisor Rick Stathakis said in an emailed statement.
Shelby Township 41-A District Court stays in Shelby
For years, Macomb Township has entertained the notion of constructing a new district court building to replace the cramped 41-A District Court in Shelby Township that currently serves Shelby, Macomb and Utica.
On Nov. 13, the Macomb Township Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to “receive and file” their second financial projection by Plante Moran and not construct a new court.
“I think it’s understandable, reasonable and prudent. (They) made the same decision we made,” Stathakis said, adding that Shelby did its own financial study that revealed the township would have to subsidize the new building’s construction costs out of its general fund.
The study that Macomb Township hired Plante Moran to conduct revealed an unfavorable five-year forecast: while bringing in a total of just more than $149,000, the debt expenditure would be approximately $1.48 million — a loss of $1.33 million.
With the transfer of the district court to Macomb Township, Stathakis said Shelby’s Board of Trustees likely would have looked into expanding the Shelby Township Public Library and Shelby Township Senior Center, which currently are housed in the same building, as well as Shelby TV.
“Now, we need to take a different approach,” Stathakis said. “We need to move forward in resolving the court’s (space) issues while protecting taxpayers’ dollars and interests.”
Ford Motor Co. settles on contaminated industrial site
On Sept. 6, Ford Motor Co. agreed to clean up the environmentally contaminated industrial site located near 23 Mile and Mound roads in Shelby Township.
In October 2012, the township hired an environmental consultant to gauge the extent of contamination. Dr. James Dragun estimated the cleanup may cost as much as $150 million.
Ford Motor Co. purchased 337 acres around the plant in 1962 and operated the plant until it closed in 2009. Indiana Metal LLC bought the 1,870,480-square-foot facility for $3.5 million in November 2010 and then demolished its plant in March 2013.
Township Attorney Rob Huth said Ford’s position, as of July 1, was that it might not have been responsible for the environmental contamination, since predecessors including Visteon, Packard and the U.S. Air Force occupied the property.
Paul Owens, the district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), said that Ford Motor Co. identified three main areas that are a source of concern. The company will install permeable reactive barriers to treat contaminated groundwater.
Huth said that Ford Motor Co. also agreed to come in and do another cleanup if more contamination is discovered once a cement slab is removed, which may be a possibility, according to Dragun, as well as throw in $50,000 for township costs.
“This is not everything we asked for, but I am satisfied after a lengthy settlement negotiation,” Huth said, adding that he has been in court for 15 months and has a file at least 10 feet thick of court documents. “I believe this is the best deal for the township to protect the residents.”
Supervisor Rick Stathakis said he is looking forward to commercial or industrial development at the site in the future.
Sunoco replaces nine-mile section of pipeline
A pipeline replacement project that began in May and affected approximately 180 individual Shelby Township landowners wrapped up at the end of November.
Sunoco began the project to replace a section of pipeline installed in 1970 with a thicker pipe that has a different type of coating that is more resistant to corrosion.
The nine-mile section is a portion of the 395-mile Mariner West line, built in 1950, from western Pennsylvania to Sarnia, Ontario. Officials say it will pump 50,000 barrels of ethane — a liquid petroleum gas, also known as a natural gas liquid — per day by March.
Summit Resources worked with Green Giant Lawn Replacement, a Shelby Township landscaping company, to take out fences and put them back in, replace irrigation systems, lay new sod, and pour new sidewalks and driveways in the areas affected by the project.
“We didn’t fuss with people. If they thought we did it, we fixed it,” Project Manager Jeffrey Thomas said. “It was a tough summer for these folks, and we understand that because their backyards were disturbed and their lawns were disturbed, but if you look at the way it is now — this happened in eight months in two counties — all in all, it’s been a pretty good project for residential construction.”
Teen church burglars receive sentences
Two teenagers were arrested April 23 for breaking and entering into three churches and stealing more than $40,000 in Easter donations, as well as breaking and entering into at least a dozen businesses in Shelby, Utica, Sterling Heights and Clinton Township.
Eric Joseph-Edward Eby, 19, of Shelby Township, received a 36- to 120-month prison sentence Nov. 15 after pleading guilty to 14 charges of breaking and entering — including counts of larceny, possession of burglary tools, malicious destruction of property and safe breaking — that stem back to April 1, 2012.
Eby was on probation at the time of his arrest from a separate breaking and entering in Sanilac County, so he received 98 days of jail credit toward his sentence.
Logan Patrick Gerring, 17, of Sterling Heights, received no jail time, but Judge Mary Chrzanowski on Dec. 3 placed him on probation for three years, ordered him to enroll in a community program and mandated that he do 50 hours of community service.
Gerring pleaded no contest to three charges of breaking and entering as an adult. He will also be tried for nine other charges as a juvenile, since he turned 17 on Feb. 18.
“I would indicate, your honor, of the two, Eby’s confession was very boastful and egocentric about his activity, his intelligence, his capability,” said Bill Cataldo, chief of homicide for the Macomb County Prosecutor’s office, who represented the people. “Mr. Gerring was not a leader. He truly was a follower. In these cases, your honor, there’s no alcohol, there’s no drugs. They were thrill-seeking young men.”
The young men are also responsible for paying restitution of more than $20,000 each.
Men receive at least 15 years for hammer beating
Two men received 15-40 years in prison for the beating of a 35-year-old Mount Clemens man around 9 p.m. June 14, 2012, behind the T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant, located at Hall and Schoenherr roads in Utica. The men allegedly attacked the man with a hammer and stole approximately $3,000 in cash from the victim.
Damien Banks, 28, and David Lyons, 46, both of Detroit, were found guilty of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, conspiracy to commit assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Banks and Lyons originally were charged with intent and conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree, but on Sept. 18, after a three-week trial, the jury found both guilty of intent and conspiracy to do great bodily harm less than murder.
Banks, sentenced on Nov. 14, has three prior felonies — two prior drug charges and a weapons charge. Lyons, sentenced on Nov. 7, has nine criminal charges on his record, including two felonies and three misdemeanors.
Community rallies for Shelby boy with brain cancer
On Dec. 4, the community came together at a fundraiser at The New Rink to raise more than $20,000 for Justin Townsend. The 12-year-old Shelby Township boy was unexpectedly diagnosed with aggressive, stage IV brain cancer during the first weeks of seventh grade at Shelby Junior High School after a bout of debilitating headaches.
Doctors performed a nine-hour emergency surgery at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital Sept. 24, and Justin has been receiving treatments at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., since September.
Justin’s parents and older sister have stayed with him throughout the ordeal. The family returned home Dec. 18 for Christmas and are set to head back to St. Jude Jan. 6 for an MRI to track Justin’s progress.
“We came up with one slogan through this whole thing: PST — Positive, Strong, Together,” said Roy Townsend, Justin’s father. “If we can say those three words, we’ll beat it.”
Shelby FD replaces woman’s wheelchair stolen at Comerica Park
What was supposed to be a birthday celebration became bittersweet when Katie Stark, 27, of Waterford Township, realized her wheelchair had been stolen at Comerica Park.
Because her group was not seated in a handicapped-accessible area, Stark had used crutches to get to her seat and stored her wheelchair in a designated space several rows above her. She did not discover the chair was missing until after the fireworks that followed the Tigers’ win over the Boston Red Sox.
Stark, who has cerebral palsy, uses crutches occasionally, but she relies on her wheelchair for longer trips, such as shopping and school. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in childhood and adolescent counseling at Oakland University.
When Lt. Inspector Joel Morris learned of her predicament on Fox 2 News on July 8, he recalled the Fire Department’s surplus medical equipment closet that housed several donated wheelchairs.
After getting the go-ahead from his boss, Fire Marshall Eddie Vojtush, he showed up at Stark’s door July 9 with the wheelchair and a Dairy Queen slush, bringing her to tears of joy.
“Katie looked like a very sweet person, and it really bothered me that someone would do something like that,” Morris said. “I’m really grateful to my boss for allowing me to do this on behalf of the department, because I know all the guys at work are happy that we were able to help. This wasn’t all me.”
Shelby Township constructs Chief Gene Shepherd Park
Officials estimate that the park honoring the late fire chief, who passed away after a battle with cancer on May 14, 2012, will celebrate its grand opening in early spring.
Treasurer Michael Flynn said the park essentially is done — the bulk of construction took place during the summer and fall — but the township must wait until spring to resurface and stripe the parking lot, and adhere a large fire truck decal on the clubhouse’s garage door.
The park boasts fire engine-themed play equipment, a red-and-black pavilion, a new clubhouse with public restrooms, sand volleyball courts, a soccer field, tennis courts, bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, benches, a walking path that will connect the park with Yates Cider Mill and a 128-spot parking lot.
The land that hosts Chief Gene Shepherd Park was originally slated to be an indoor soccer arena, but wetland damage and public disapproval of the soccer dome ended the short-lived endeavor and cost the previous board $1.3 million in litigation.
The park, subsidized by private donations and cable TV income, cost $445,000, Flynn said.
Joseph Youngblood, director of the Parks, Recreation and Maintenance Department, said the location in the northwest portion of the township will provide the park experience to more people in the community.
“We’re trying to have something for everyone, for the kids up to senior citizens,” he said. “We’re really excited about Gene Shepherd Park.”
UCS predicts slower enrollment drops
Utica Community Schools announced its findings and projections regarding student enrollment for the next four years at a November Board of Education meeting.
Officials said the district’s charts have showed a slow enrollment decline starting around the 2006-07 school year — back when UCS had more than 29,600 students. Based on an October student count, UCS has 28,673 students in the district for the 2013-14 school year, including Schools of Choice students. In contrast, the 2012-13 count was 28,818.
Although enrollment is still predicted to decline over the next four years, it is expected to be more moderate. School officials cite as reasons a recent higher birth figure and growth in the housing industry.
Officials said the information helps the district decide facility staffing, programming and the budget. The district’s main revenue comes from its per-pupil foundation allowance, which increases proportionately with enrollment.
Snapping-turtle eggs hatch at Stony Creek Nature Center
On Aug. 25, around 30 baby snapping turtles began emerging from their eggs at the Stony Creek Nature Center.
Park Interpreter Aaron Yilmaz was excited when, in early August, he caught sight of a large female snapping turtle he estimated to be at least 11 years old digging in the ground just outside of the nature center’s windows near the soon-to-be butterfly house.
Yilmaz ventured out a few days later with a trowel, discovered the nest and carefully reburied the eggs in a ventilated coffee can with a screen on top to protect the eggs from predators. After an incubation period, he brought the eggs into a sandbox in the nature center to watch them hatch.
After a few weeks of allowing the young turtles to absorb their nutrient-rich yolk sacks, nature center staff transferred them into a large tank filled with shallow water, rocks and plants.
Senior Park Interpreter Mark Szabo said that the nature center would keep three of the young snapping turtles for the winter and, in the spring, release the snapping turtle currently on exhibit.
Staff Writer Eric Czarnik contributed to this report.
About the author
Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik covers Shelby Township and Utica for the Shelby-Utica News. Sarah has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Oakland University. She won a first place 2013 Excellence in Journalism award for open government reporting and a second place 2014 Excellence in Journalism award for a series of explanatory stories from the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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