Township seeks support for police, fire millage

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published January 6, 2016

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HARRISON TOWNSHIP — In March, voters will be asked to support a two-year millage increase of 1.083 mills that will provide taxpayer support for police, fire and general operations within Harrison Township.

The 8.20 millage rate ($8.20 per $1,000 of taxable value) funds the operation of the Harrison Township Fire Department, the Macomb County Sheriff’s contract and the general operating procedures in the township.

Of that rate, the Board of Trustees last month approved 6.35 mills for fire protection services, including vehicles, apparatuses, equipment, housing, personnel, and emergency medical and ambulance service, as well as an increase of 0.8475 over the most recent levy of 5.5025.

In addition, 1.6500 mills is for police protection services, which is an increase of 0.0355 over the most recent levy of 1.6145. The contract allows for 10 deputies with two on duty during shifts.

The proposal will raise an estimated $7,144,488 in the first year, officials say.

Township Supervisor Kenneth Verkest said he doesn’t enjoy asking voters to approve an increase in the millage rate, but adds that it’s important to understand how they got to seeking an increase in the first place.

“There is a financial component and a service component,” he said.

From 2009 through 2014, the township lost 19.8 percent (approximately $204 million) in taxable value. Since then, there has been an increase in taxable value at 1.3 percent, while forecasters anticipate a 2 1/2 percent increase in 2016. Today, the township is still down 16 percent in terms of what the taxable value was in 2009.

“At that current rate, just to get back to what we were at in 2009, will take 9 years,” Verkest said. “So in 2025, we’ll be back to the level of tax value we were at in 2009, though you can’t predict inflation.”

The township formed a fire department study committee that included one SEMCOG representative, township fire officials, and outside fire chiefs to look closer at Harrison Township’s fire operations. The panel found that the township’s fire department would not be able to sustain operations at its current funding level.

The current millage, approved at a rate of 6.67 in August 2013, expires in 2016. The proposed increase means the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $81 more in taxes per year over the next two years.

Verkest said the service component involves outsourcing dispatch services and increasing staffing at the fire department.

Currently, the department has 25 employees, with six working on any given shift, but the average number of fire employees for a department of its size is right around 30.

According to Matt Sahr, spokesperson for the Harrison Township Firefighters Union 1737, during many emergency calls that the department responds to, they are forced to take a small truck. When responding to a fire, they take a large engine, though with limited manpower, they are forced to wait for backup either from Mount Clemens of Clinton Township.

“We fully support 30 personnel, which would help mitigate emergencies here in Harrison Township,” he said.

Earlier in 2015, the township gained concessions with the fire union through arbitration, and in October, the Board of Trustees held off on awarding a 5 percent pay increase for Fire Chief Michael Lopez. Currently, the board is involved in the ongoing effort to determine the feasibility of consolidating fire services with Clinton Township, Mount Clemens and Sterling Heights.

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