Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski swears in new police officers in 2017. Dwojakowski has credited the Safe Streets Millage for keeping the Police Department sufficiently staffed amid a major employee turnover and hiring phase.

Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski swears in new police officers in 2017. Dwojakowski has credited the Safe Streets Millage for keeping the Police Department sufficiently staffed amid a major employee turnover and hiring phase.

File photo by Donna Dalziel

Officials explain millage money usage ahead of renewal vote

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 8, 2019


Sterling Heights officials recently made a renewed effort to explain how they have used the millions of dollars they received from a safety and roads millage, which will be back on the ballot for possible renewal later this year.

During a Jan. 29 Sterling Heights City Council special meeting, city officials gave presentations on the results of the Safe Streets Millage that voters approved in 2013 in a 57.4-42.6 percent vote. 

According to city officials, that millage has levied 0.8 mill for neighborhood roads and 1.7 mills for police and fire staffing. That means that the city received around $3.3 million annually toward roads and around $7 million annually toward public safety staffing, officials said.

At the meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool explained the effect on taxpayers.

“The average cost to residents for the Safe Streets initiative equated to $157 annually, or $13 monthly, based on the average-priced home,” he said. “With the need to renew this millage in November, it is important for residents to see how their tax dollars have been put to good use.”

City Engineer Brent Bashaw gave an overview of the city’s roadwork program since the millage’s passage. 

Based on Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating road quality ratings, the percentage of poor roads in the city was projected to decrease from 11 percent in 2013 to 9 percent in 2019. The percentage of good roads was set to increase from 7 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2019.

Bashaw said heavy construction started in 2014, and within the millage’s six-year span, a total of 246 road locations — around 32 miles — will have received some kind of capital improvement. If voters renew the millage, 2020-2025 should eventually see around another 32 miles of capital improvements affecting 260 locations, he said. Bashaw added that a renewal would raise around $20.5 million for roads from 2020 to 2025. 

Vanderpool said the millage also funds around 50 full-time police officer positions and around another 20 full-time Fire Department positions. 

Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski said Safe Streets has successfully preserved the department amid “the largest turnover of officers and command officers in the department’s history,” adding that 56 officers were hired in under four years. He said the department today has 151 officers and is maintaining the distinction of being the sixth-safest city of its size in the country. 

Dwojakowski noted the millage’s role in preserving the department. 

“The primary goal was to maintain current levels of staffing in our public safety departments ... and I would absolutely say that goal has been accomplished, and we have exceeded expectations during this last run through Safe Streets,” he said.

Dwojakowski explained a few metrics for judging the right number of officers for a community. He said Sterling Heights has 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents, whereas Warren has 1.45, Troy has 1.2 and Shelby Township has 0.9. He said that the Sterling Heights Police Department would need to hire 40 more officers to reach Warren’s rate, which would require more money.

Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin credited the Safe Streets Millage for its role in keeping the department ready for emergencies. For instance, he said the Fire Department has issued 16 Survival Coins to cardiac event survivors since 2016.

“It is no secret that your chances of surviving a cardiac arrest are greater in Sterling Heights than in most other places in the country,” he said. 

Martin had positive things to say about the Fire Department’s 2017 takeover of advanced life support transport services, which required the hiring of 15 new firefighters. 

“After 14 months of this new program, I can tell you that it has been a huge success, and that success would not have been possible without Safe Streets,” he said. 

At a Feb. 5 City Council meeting, resident Charles Jefferson urged the public to get involved on the Safe Streets issue.

“Folks, if you don’t want a tax increase, if you want to see this go away, you’re going to have to start coming out and participate in the process,” Jefferson said. “If you don’t, there’s going to be free rein, and it’ll be too late for you guys to speak up.”

At the same meeting, Vanderpool clarified that Safe Streets is a millage and does not involve a bond issue. He added that the city is not asking for a tax increase over the current rate, but a renewal. However, if the millage were to fail, taxes would go down.

“As many may know, we had to eliminate 200 full-time positions during the Great Recession. However, we tried to avoid reductions for obvious reasons in police and fire,” he said. 

“The Safe Streets Millage helped sustain the current staffing levels in police and fire. … There is a need to continue the Safe Streets Millage in November to sustain the current levels in police and fire for another period of time.”

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