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Voters to decide Bloomfield Township police and fire renewal

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 11, 2020

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — A decade ago, Bloomfield Township voters approved a public safety millage increase to keep services thriving amid the economic downturn that sent property values tumbling.

Now that debt is set to expire, and voters will have the chance March 10 to renew that millage or let it fall off and cut police, fire and EMS budgets by about $2.5 million annually.

The proposal requests authorization to levy up to 1.2401 mills for 10 years. The estimated collection in the first year would be just over $5 million if approved.

Bloomfield Township Police Chief Phil Langmeyer said that while the original proposal was an effort to preserve services during the recession, because of millage rollbacks required by Michigan’s Headlee Amendment, tax rates haven’t quite rebounded from the crisis despite the good economy we enjoy now.

“We’re still not out of it — that’s just it,” said Langmeyer. “Property taxes have not bounced back to where they were with Headlee overrides. That slows the amount of time you can get back to where you were.”

If the renewal isn’t approved, Langmeyer said the result in his department would be simple: personnel cuts. Last summer, an infamous 2.3-mill special assessment district proposal to support police and fire services failed at the polls in the wake of the township’s outstanding debt with other post-employment obligation expenses for retirees. Dissenters of the bond argued that taxes shouldn’t be raised, but rather cuts should be made to the operating budget.

Since then, police officials have eliminated services, including the animal welfare department and the traffic unit. Currently, Langmeyer said, there are 61 employees in his department — short of the 70 employees that have traditionally been in the department for several decades.

The Fire Department has also made budget cuts, and the possibility of eliminating service at one of the fire stations is still on the table to keep costs down.

“The renewal is critical for the Police Department. It means taking $2.5 million from our budget, and that boils down to people — it just is. We don’t have much fat left to cut,” Langmeyer said. “That amounts to about 20 to 25 people — a third of our force.”

Would all of those personnel cuts be made to officers? It’s hard to say, Langmeyer explained. But there would be a noticeable difference, he said.

“That means all of our special people — the people who work in the schools, enforce narcotics for us, those in our detective bureau — we wouldn’t have them anymore,” he said. “We’d be relegated to just responding to crime, not trying to prevent it.”

There are some residents — particularly those in the group Better Bloomfield Township, who argued against last year’s SAD proposal — who aren’t convinced the millage on the March ballot should be renewed.

“The original millage was passed when there were dire financial problems and property tax values were falling. Now those are all recovered, so we would assume that emergency that it was originally passed for is over,” said resident Mark Babcock. “But (the township) says, ‘No, it’s not.’ I’m sure this is still for the shortfall for retiree benefits.”

Resident Alan Must said he plans to vote in favor of the renewal, explaining that he understands that while tax values have gone up over the last decade, inflation has too.

“By voting no to a deal like this, all we’re doing is going to have to cut off a lot of qualified people: Fire Department, Police Department,” he said. “If you want to live in a community like this, that’s fine. If you want service like Detroit, Royal Oak and Pontiac, then vote no. If you want to do the right thing, vote yes on this proposal. Remember, we’re not asking for more money — you’re only asking for what we’ve been paying.”

To view the ballot language in full, visit the township’s website at bloomfieldtwp.org or the Oakland County government’s election page at oakgov.com/clerkrod.

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