Huntington Woods puts police, fire pension millage on March ballot

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published January 21, 2020

HUNTINGTON WOODS — A millage proposal has been placed on the March ballot by the city of Huntington Woods to fund the Public Safety Department’s police and fire pensions.

Residents will be asked to vote on the “Fire Fighters and Police Officers Pension and Retirement System Proposal” in the March 10 election.

The ballot question reads, “Shall the City of Huntington Woods, County of Oakland, Michigan, be authorized to establish a pension and retirement system for the benefit of its fire fighters and police officers, create a board to manage the system, and fund the system by levying an annual tax for a period of not to exceed twenty-five (25) years in an amount not to exceed three mills ($3.00 per $1,000 of taxable value) in any year, all in accordance with the provisions of Michigan Public Act 345 of 1937, as amended?”

The city expects the millage levied for residents not to be greater than 2.7 mills and to be as low as 2 mills. The estimated millage for the first year, which would be collected on the summer tax bill starting this year, is 2.4160 mills, and the average millage over 20 years would be 2.1030 mills, according to an FAQ on the proposal.

A tax calculator is available at www.hwmi.org for people to determine the projected tax impact by using their actual taxable value.

According to the city, the millage came about during a review of its financial health in its Long Term Budget & Planning Committee. There was a recommendation to devise a long-term road improvement strategy, but they felt it wasn’t possible to levy an additional millage toward roads.

City Manager Amy Sullivan said it was determined that a millage would be proposed that would fund the police and fire pensions, which Huntington Woods finances now, and the money that goes toward the pensions now would be used for road improvements if the pension millage passes.

“Cities have very limited options for revenue streams, given the constraints that have been placed on them with the Headlee Amendment and charter caps,” she said. “This was a creative plan to tap into a source of revenue that is not constrained by the charter cap, and then we can redirect money that we are currently using for pensions for road improvements.”

The Fire Fighters and Police Officers Retirement Act, also known as Public Act 345 of 1937, allowed the city to seek a new funding source for the pensions. If the millage is passed, PA 345 would establish a board in the city that can manage its own plan, or it can choose to have someone else do it.

Sullivan said Huntington Woods’ intent is to have the management of the police and fire retirement funds transferred from the PA 345 board to the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Michigan, or MERS, which currently manages the pensions.

Public Safety Director Andrew Pazuchowski said the change of the funding’s source doesn’t affect anything for employees or the unions, and that he doesn’t see a negative if the switch is made.

“Nothing really changes for public safety,” he said. “All the benefits, everything’s the same. It’s just considered a private pension fund, but it’s still (managed) by MERS, which is the state pension fund. So very little changes.”

“It’s just the pension system is now considered private instead of state,” he continued.

For residents who want to ask city staff and engineers about the millage and road improvement plan in an open forum, a public informational meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, at City Hall to answer questions.