Farmington Hills voters asked to restore, renew public safety millage

By: Brian Louwers | Farmington Press | Published August 9, 2021

 The proposed public safety millage renewal and restorative increase to its original levy will appear on the ballot for the general election in Farmington Hills Nov. 2.

The proposed public safety millage renewal and restorative increase to its original levy will appear on the ballot for the general election in Farmington Hills Nov. 2.

Photo by Brian Louwers

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FARMINGTON HILLS — City administrators in Farmington Hills say residents reap the benefits of good municipal public safety services in the form of decreased crime, fast emergency response times and better insurance rates.

The city’s voters approved a supplemental millage to help pay for police and fire services in 2011. While property owners are taxed for it at a slightly lower rate 10 years later because of the Headlee Amendment rollback under state law, officials hope voters will approve a recommended restoration of the original levy and a renewal for another decade.

At its regular meeting July 26, the Farmington Hills City Council unanimously voted to put the restorative increase from the rolled-back 1.6187 mills to the originally approved 1.7 mills and a 10-year millage extension on the November ballot for voter consideration.

“I just wanted to say the city’s done very, very well with this public safety millage,” Farmington Hills City Councilman Michael Bridges said at the meeting. “You look at the amount of benefits that citizens of this community has experienced because of the millage with 1.7, it’s tremendous.”

Farmington Hills Finance Director Tom Skrobola told council members that the annual budget for the city’s police and fire operations is $35.6 million, and that about $6 million of that is paid for by the 2011 public safety millage. Other funding comes from a separate public safety millage, approved in the mid-1990s and renewed in 2015. Skrobola said “the lion’s share” of the costs, about $23.8 million, are paid through the city’s general fund.

Skrobola and Farmington Hills Fire Chief Jon Unruh said the city had also received Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response funds, known as SAFER grants, most recently in 2015, that helped offset the cost of added personnel with about $250,000 in federal funds annually. During his presentation about the Fire Department, Unruh said the number of incidents rose from 7,696 in 2011 to 10,484 in 2020. He said the department is on target to surpass 11,000 incidents for 2021.

Losing the SAFER grant funding, officials said, would cost the city two firefighters, and as a result, it would take one fire apparatus out of service. But renewing the millage and restoring it to its original levy, they said, would offset the SAFER grant’s elimination from the city’s books.

Restoring the millage to the original 1.7 mills would cost the average property owner an additional $8 per year and would generate about $310,000 annually, Skrobola said.  

The City Council was presented with options to place either a straight renewal or the renewal with the restorative increase on the November ballot.

“Staff’s recommendation is certainly to renew the millage, restore the millage back to where it was in 2011,” Farmington Hills City Manager Gary Mekjian said. “That will ensure our ability to continue delivering first-class public safety services to our community and do so in a fashion into the future.”

Under the Headlee Amendment to the Michigan Constitution, a community’s millage rates are reduced to offset any increase in overall taxable value exceeding the rate of inflation in a given year. While the public safety millage rate approved in 2011 remained flat at 1.7 mills for four years, climbing property values have more recently pushed the rate down because of Headlee.

When calculating property taxes, one mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value.

Farmington Hills Mayor Vicki Barnett said the city is required to put the question on the ballot as a renewal and an increase, even though the increase would only set the millage back to the originally intended levy that voters approved in 2011.

“We have to label that as a millage renewal of the 1.61 and change, plus an increase, which was never designed to be an increase. It was what you authorized already,” Barnett said. “We have two pieces of wording that we have to put in, in under 100 words, to explain to the public what’s actually going on when they check yes or no on the ballot.”

The council also approved a stipulation for additional wording indicating that the taxes raised would be used for public safety staffing and equipment purposes only.

“For all the information that we’ve heard this evening and we’ve experienced in all the years we’ve lived here, public safety is No. 1, and health, safety and welfare, that’s what we’re up here to do,” Farmington Hills City Councilman Ken Massey said. “With that, I think that our citizens have enjoyed a very safe city and this public safety millage question needs to be put on the ballot.”

Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King told council members the public safety millage currently supports 35 sworn officers, five dispatchers and one dispatch supervisor.

Prior to 2011, the department experienced a 23% reduction in staffing, which eliminated the positions of 16 sworn officers and 24 civilian jobs.

“The public safety millage, as we’ve recommended, will allow us to maintain the current staffing level with no additional reductions,” King said.

According to data presented to the City Council, annual calls for service for the Police Department increased from 28,649 in 2011 to an average of 35,060 per year between 2016 and 2020. During that same period, King said, the annual number of crashes, burglaries and arrests all decreased from 2011.    

“One of the things that our community enjoys from our Police Department’s efforts is we are annually recognized as one of the safest cities in Michigan, and that has been going on routinely for the last several years,” King said.

He said statistics point to a “consistent decrease” in the 24 most serious crimes affecting life safety and quality of life. Burglaries, for example, decreased from 319 in 2011 to a five-year average of 125 since 2016.

“One thing we take pride in in our department is our quality of training, and we’ve really increased that, even recently,” King said.

He said Farmington Hills police officers averaged 40 hours of annual training in 2011. Between 2016 and 2020, the average was 62 hours per officer. That increased to 82 last year, with plans to exceed 101 hours per officer in the coming fiscal year.

The proposed public safety millage renewal and restorative increase to its original levy will appear on the ballot for the city’s general election on Nov. 2.

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