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Animal welfare among the first programs scrapped in township

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published August 30, 2019

 Bloomfield Township police officers will no longer respond to animal complaint calls unless there is a roadway safety issue, now that the Animal Welfare Division is closed.

Bloomfield Township police officers will no longer respond to animal complaint calls unless there is a roadway safety issue, now that the Animal Welfare Division is closed.

Photo provided by Bloomfield Township Communications

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — Before the year ends, Bloomfield Township residents will permanently bid farewell to three popular municipal programs, with even more destined for the chopping block.

The Board of Trustees voted during a regular meeting Aug. 26 to nix the township’s Animal Welfare Division, an annual open house event, and the household hazardous waste disposal and shredding programs.

The vote was 5-1, with Supervisor Leo Savoie dissenting and Trustee Neal Barnett absent.

The reductions will reportedly save the township about $280,000 annually. Savoie had proposed the reductions in a slightly different version than what was later voted upon.

That savings will be put toward reducing the approximately $5 million deficit the township faces now that retiree benefits and health care costs must legally be funded at 40% following a change in Michigan law.

“My goal, which I’m sure is everyone else’s goal, is to keep Bloomfield Township best in class. Bloomfield Township has always delivered and will continue to deliver outstanding services to the residents. We’ve always been accountable for every dollar we spend, and we will continue to do so,” Savoie said.

He added that in the coming months, the board could explore more options to save money and close the deficit, like leaving vacant around 15 positions across the township that are currently unfilled due to resignations or attrition.

On top of that, he said, positions could be cut from the township’s Road Division, the gypsy moth program and the legal representation fighting wireless 5G utility installation. He said those cuts could have a long-term negative impact on residents, and he proposed that department heads make presentations to the board to learn more about the consequences of making those changes.

The budget-reductions-only model for closing the deficit was decided by voters Aug. 6, when a proposed special assessment district to bring in more revenue failed by 62%.

The meeting was not without a little venom. Trustees Dani Walsh and David Buckley, both of whom voted against putting the SAD proposal on the ballot without first reducing the township’s budget costs, lamented that Savoie’s suggested cuts didn’t impact administrators enough.

“It does appear there is a penalty here,” said Walsh. “Everything you mentioned affects the residents, not the employees.”

She said that the township’s contributions to employee health care costs should be reduced, and certain benefits to administrators, like municipal vehicles, should be eliminated.

“The vote didn’t go your way, so you’re ready to stick it to the residents, so to speak,” said Buckley. “I didn’t hear anything about shared sacrifice as far as compensation (and benefits).”

Savoie noted that the compensation of the supervisor position, along with Treasurer Brian Kepes and Clerk Janet Roncelli, cannot be altered during their elected terms unless it’s done voluntarily. That said, those salaries and benefit packages could be changed with a board vote for the next term.

“Dani may not know because she’s a new trustee, but Dave, you certainly know because you’re a long-standing trustee,” Kepes said, turning his attention to Buckley. “You know because you defended the exact same vehicle that I’m driving for the past treasurer. So you know that can’t be reduced. You know the compensation can’t be reduced.”

Despite the squabbling, the board majority was able to agree that the three programs on the table that evening — the Animal Welfare Division, the open house, and the hazardous waste disposal and shredding — were dispensable.

“It’s imperative we look at what Plante Moran suggested, which is we turn services over to the county where we can,” Roncelli said. “This is what was recommended to us; it’s what the people want. Services we don’t have to provide that the county will provide, I’m for immediately closing it down.”

Savoie stressed that while one animal welfare officer is preparing to retire, the other is not and could be absorbed into the Police Department by dispatch services and occasionally answer animal welfare calls, when available.

Others disagreed, saying the township should either offer the service in full or not at all. With that, Walsh moved to completely eliminate those three programs, with all but Savoie on board.

The Animal Welfare Division will officially close Dec. 1. The department will stop accepting stray animals two weeks in advance, giving the officers the opportunity to adopt out the rest of the pets in their care. After that, Oakland County Animal Control will be the go-to for lost or problem animals. The county shelter will keep an animal for a maximum of five days at a cost of $23 per day. After that, the county will dispose of the animal, which also will cost the township $23.

The outright savings of eliminating the division will be around $175,000, though the net savings will be closer to $140,000 after county animal control fees.

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