Published September 26, 2012
Woods chooses not to take part in public safety study
By Jeremy Selweski jSelweski@candgnews.com
HUNTINGTON WOODS — City officials opted last week not to participate in a study to determine the feasibility of combining Huntington Woods’ police and fire services with its neighbors in Pleasant Ridge and Berkley.
The City Commission unanimously voted against the proposal Sept. 18, citing issues with its overall size and scope. In the eyes of the commissioners, the proposed public safety study is simply not big enough. They would instead like to conduct a study that includes all five Woodward 5 communities — Royal Oak, Ferndale, Berkley, Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge — and not just the three smallest of them.
“This study is just not inclusive enough,” said Commissioner Jules Olsman bluntly. “The Woodward 5 is the way that we’re trying to promote this region now, so if this study is only covering three cities and not five, then it’s simply inadequate. That’s not going to help us in the long run.”
Added Mayor Ron Gillham, “It’s not that we thought this was a bad decision — it’s just that we thought we might have a better one in mind. The governor wants local communities to work together, and we figured it would be a better idea to look at doing a study that includes all five (Woodward 5) cities.”
In January, Pleasant Ridge was awarded a $132,250 grant from the state of Michigan to conduct a study about a potential public safety merger with Berkley and possibly Huntington Woods. The grant was part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s ongoing Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP) for Michigan municipalities. It could be used to pay for the study itself, as well as any legal fees, training expenses and new equipment that such a merger might require.
However, the Pleasant Ridge City Commission was not 100 percent on board with the idea of a public safety study. They initially postponed making a decision before reconvening in May and voting, after a lengthy discussion, to accept the EVIP grant by a narrow 3-2 margin. The Berkley City Council was not completely behind the study either, voting in June by only a 4-2 majority to participate in it.
Woods officials expressed concerns about the feasibility of combining two cities — Berkley and Huntington Woods — that already utilize a public safety model with one that currently does not. They noted that Pleasant Ridge has its own police department, but has received fire protection services from the city of Ferndale for the past 89 years. At the same time, they stressed that their decision to opt out of the study does not reflect a hesitation toward collaborating with Berkley and Pleasant Ridge.
“The City Commission simply voted to overturn the motion at this time,” City Manager Alex Allie explained. “But I think we all understand that in this economic environment, there’s really no alternative to pursuing new joint efforts with your neighbors as a way to provide services more efficiently.”
Now the commission is hoping that the other Woodward 5 communities will join them in requesting a new EVIP grant that will pay for a five-city public safety study. Still, they also admitted that getting everyone to agree on the terms of this type of study — knowing that it could eventually lead to a major shift in the way that police and fire services are provided throughout the region — will be no easy task.
“It takes some real thought and some real soul-searching to make a merger like this happen,” Gillham said. “I just think that, by and large, people don’t like change. We all want to be involved with collaborating with our neighbors, but we don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it — we want to make sure we do it the right way.”
Gillham and Olsman both pointed out that residents are especially sensitive to any issue that concerns police and fire protection in their community. If local officials are discussing the possibility of altering that model, Olsman asserted, then residents want to be assured that it will not affect their public safety response time or service level.
“I’m sure there are some (city) services where we could be more efficient by consolidating,” he said, “but I think that changing police and fire services in Huntington Woods is going to be a hard sell. People are not going to give up their feeling of security just because it costs them a little more money to maintain.”