Clinton TownshipFebruary 1, 2013
Supervisor proposes citizens committees study millage increase
By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer
CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Clinton Township Supervisor Robert Cannon proposed the township form two citizens committees to research a potential millage increase to increase funding for public safety services.
Separate committees for police and fire will gather data and recommend the appropriate staffing levels in the two departments, as well as the necessary millage to support that during the next 10 years, he said. The supervisor will bring his recommendation to proceed with the formation of the two committees to the other six township trustees during the board’s Feb. 4 meeting, he said.
“What I want is citizens who are active, but I don’t want any political activists,” he said.
Cannon proposed a 1-mill increase for police and a 1.25-mill for fire and rescue services, but said the final recommendation would be left to the committees.
The proposals came during Cannon’s annual State of the Township address, delivered Jan. 25 before a crowd of nearly 200 business and community leaders and municipal, county and state dignitaries.
In Clinton Township, general fund dollars aren’t used to pay for police and fire services. Rather, the departments are primarily funded through special millages. The township, Michigan’s most populous township, currently assesses 6.5 mills for police services and nearly 5 mills for fire services for its 100,000 residents.
One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. For example, for a house with a taxable value of $60,000 — the average value in Clinton Township — a 2.25-mill increase would translate to paying an extra $135 per year.
Cannon prefaced the announcement by highlighting some of the township’s challenges in recent years — namely, the loss of property tax revenue, which is the primary source of funding for police and fire operations.
“All local governments struggle to maintain basic services with much less tax revenue and huge reductions in state revenue-sharing,” he said. “It is not possible for local governments to provide services, like public safety, in the manner we need while funding streams continue to diminish. The state continues to reduce aid to local communities, such as the personal property tax on businesses, which again impacts our revenue.”
Police and fire staffing levels are down to their lowest levels in recent memory.
In the fire department, seven firefighters are on layoffs, and 12 more are being paid for out of a $3.3 million, two-year federal grant that expires in June. The township has applied for another grant, Cannon said.
The fire department had 99 personnel in 2008, but now has fewer than 70, township financial officers said. The reductions have come through a combination of attrition and layoffs.
The police department is projected to have 83 police personnel by the end of March, down from its peak level of 110 in 2005. The reduction has come through attrition, or not replacing retiring personnel.
Since 2003, the number of township employees has fallen by 112 positions, or roughly 27 percent.
“I would not make a request like this if we had not reduced staff and received employee concessions first,” he said. “The final event I was waiting for was the consolidation of our dispatch with the county, which again demonstrates this board’s resolve to reduce expenses whenever feasible. However, I believe we’ve reached the point where further staff reductions begin to render both departments less and less effective.”
Due to belt-tightening by the township, the proposed millage increases are down from previously suggested increases, he added.
Should either, or both, of the citizens committees recommend a millage increase, the issue could go to a public vote on either August or November 2013 ballots, Cannon said. Because no other elections are scheduled this year, the cost of running a special election would be $56,000, he said.
To guarantee the fairness of the process, Cannon said he has asked six community leaders to screen applicants for the citizens committees. The six are Mark O’Halla, president and CEO of McLaren Macomb; Jim Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College; Assistant Macomb County Executive Al Lorenzo; Barb Rossmann, CEO of Henry Ford Macomb Hospital; Paul Tait, director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, or SEMCOG; and Don Torline, president of Baker College.
The citizens committees would also include representatives from the township’s finance department, Cannon proposed. Police Chief Fred Posavetz and Fire Chief John Shea, or a designee of their choosing, would each sit on the committees examining police and fire millages.
“My reason for this process is to provide a sense of confidence that the recommendations that come forward are not political, and that community input was sought and desired before making any request of the public,” he said.
Posavetz said he would also support a millage increase since the police department was “at a critical point” and needed to “continue the level of services that our citizens deserve.”
Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds said while the township board has the authority to pass such a millage increase by itself, he wouldn’t support that because the public should be allowed to weigh in on the matter.
But Cannon also pointed out highlights from the last year, including new construction in previously dormant residential subdivisions and condominium projects. Five apartment buildings are under construction, as well, he said.
“There were more than 750 good market sales in 2012 — an increase of 50 percent (from 2011),” he said. “So, the housing market appears to have turned around, which is great news for Clinton Township and Macomb County.”
He highlighted a number of community achievements, like the community blood drives in March and November, the fireworks in July, the Gratiot cruise in August and the Festival of the Senses in September.
Cannon also mentioned private-sector investments from Baker College and the Macomb Community College campus at Garfield and Hall roads; Henry Ford Macomb Hospital; and new small businesses along the Gratiot corridor.
“The good news still is that Clinton Township is a wonderful place to live, raise a family and work,” he said. “However, the challenge before us is that available resources continue to shrink, and will continue to do so until we arrive at a new economic reality that is far different than what we knew five years ago.”
Interested applicants for the citizens committees can send their résumés and a letter telling about themselves to the township supervisor’s office at 40700 Romeo Plank Road, Clinton Township, MI 48038.