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Township’s public safety funding in trouble, board weighs millage options

May millage vote discussed, but no decision reached

By: Heidi Roman | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published February 2, 2011

 Rob Kokko of the Clinton Township Fire Department tests one of the community’s ladder trucks. The Fire and Police departments are bracing for possible cuts as the township prepares a budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, though some board members have suggested seeking a public safety millage in May.

Rob Kokko of the Clinton Township Fire Department tests one of the community’s ladder trucks. The Fire and Police departments are bracing for possible cuts as the township prepares a budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, though some board members have suggested seeking a public safety millage in May.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Something has to be done about Clinton Township’s police and fire funds, which are both expected to run out of money within three years.

But what, exactly, should be done is up for debate.

The board had a discussion about funding the departments at its Jan. 24 meeting and tossed around the idea of putting a public safety millage on the ballot in May, though no decision was reached.

Finance Director Donna Lauretti was still preparing the budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year and could not provide the projected deficits for the funds, but she has said both will become insolvent by 2013 or 2014.

Last year, the board laid off seven firefighters to put a dent in the expected deficit, but that move won’t fix the coming problems. Meanwhile, the board and the firefighters have been butting heads trying to negotiate a new contract since the former one expired about two years ago.

Public safety services are the biggest expense in the township, but are considered the most important to most residents.

“I think we need to put it out there and get serious about what we’re looking at,” said Trustee Dean Reynolds, who requested the discussion be added to the agenda. “We are the overseers of this township, but we are not dictators. We should ask the public what they want done with their services.”

The board discussed a possible public safety millage to make up for the revenues that have been lost from declining property values and state revenue sharing. The board didn’t indicate what sort of millage would be considered.

Putting the issue to a public vote in May would cost the township about $24,000 in election costs, said Clerk George Fitzgerald. And to get it on that ballot, the decision to do it would have to be made by Feb. 8, he said.

An August election would cost about $45,000, Fitzgerald said.

Still, any revenue increases from a millage wouldn’t be collected until 2012.

“Whatever it is we do, this is not going to be fixed overnight,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re at a crossroads with our Fire Department.”

The ongoing contract negotiations have become a big issue as the board tries to prepare a budget for next year. Even as the board was discussing a possible millage, a negotiating team was meeting elsewhere in the Civic Center to try to come to an agreement. No resolution was reached at the end of the meeting, but Supervisor Bob Cannon said he hopes to settle the contract soon.

Resident Simon Haddad said the “bloated” contract currently in place has cost the township a lot of money, and thought the community would be better off cutting money — not services — from the fund in other ways, rather than asking the voters to pay more.

“Choosing between bad choice A and bad choice B really isn’t a choice,” he said. “I want those services, but there’s a limit to what I can afford.”

Resident Roger Holtslander said even though he’s never voted against a millage before and worked on the last police millage campaign, there’s “not a chance” he’d support a 2011 police and fire millage. He argues the public sector hasn’t taken enough cuts or properly managed its money.

Resident Steve Brostek said he’d prefer the board to cut non-emergency services before asking the public to pay more for the ones that are important to them, like police and fire. Threatening to cut those life-saving services is a “scare tactic,” he said.

If a millage is proposed, Brostek said he’d hope for a fair election.

“I do expect you to look us in the eyes as taxpayers and tell us you’ve done everything that can be done (before seeking a millage),” he said.

The board took no action at the Jan. 24 meeting. A public hearing on the 2011-2012 budget is planned for Feb. 22 at the Civic Center board chambers, 40700 Romeo Plank Road in Clinton Township. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.

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