West Bloomfield Police Department Field Training Officer Catherine Gierula stands with Officer David McNealy. Public safety was among the positives that West Bloomfield Supervisor Steven Kaplan cited for the township last year.

West Bloomfield Police Department Field Training Officer Catherine Gierula stands with Officer David McNealy. Public safety was among the positives that West Bloomfield Supervisor Steven Kaplan cited for the township last year.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

WB officials reflect on last year, share aspirations for 2023

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 7, 2023

 Pictured is West Bloomfield Police Department Chief Michael Patton. Patton said a partnership with the community helps make public safety successful in the township.

Pictured is West Bloomfield Police Department Chief Michael Patton. Patton said a partnership with the community helps make public safety successful in the township.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

WEST BLOOMFIELD — When considering West Bloomfield’s accomplishments from last year, Supervisor Steven Kaplan directed his attention to the township’s personnel.

“Our municipal staff is unrivaled, in our view,” he said. “Most people who visit Town Hall are satisfied with the services and with the treatment they receive from staff. … It’s not glamorous. It’s not going to make the headlines, but it’s the basic activities here at Town Hall. … It’s not something you could teach; it’s more, we do a good job in hiring, retaining and promoting.”

From Kaplan’s perspective, the township is also fiscally responsible.

“We are operating with a (healthy) fund equity balance, so we think we budget well,” he said. “We provide the necessary services without running into deficits.”

Public safety was one of Kaplan’s primary focuses.

In line with public safety, one of Kaplan’s aspirations going forward is to renovate the West Bloomfield Police Department building.

“Our Police Department building was built in 1993. It’s now 29 years of age, and it badly is in need of renovation,” he said. “We’ve been studying this issue for close to two years. … We need to renovate that area in order to enhance safety.”

A security area for when suspects are in custody, and separate male and female locker room areas could be part of a renovation project.

Kaplan estimated that such a project could cost around $5.7 million. He does not anticipate having to seek a millage in order to cover the costs for a police building renovation project.

“The board has not decided how it is going to pay for the renovation, but there are three possibilities. One is we pay for it through our rainy day balance, which is called the fund equity balance, or we seek bonding for it,” Kaplan said. “There are bonding costs, but this way it’s spread out over time. Or, a combination of the two.”

Kaplan also indicated that American Rescue Plan Act funds may be a possibility in helping to cover some of the costs.

He recalled that, about three years ago, Fire Station No. 3, located on Green Lake Road, was built for around $5.5 million.

“It’s because we’ve saved that we can afford to make these major expenditures,” he said. “If we hadn’t saved, what are you going to do? If (we) need a new building, you might have to lay off people, reduce hours or not fill positions. We’re able to fill positions. We have 82 police officers and 94 firefighters; we’re at maximum right now for the first time in probably 30 years.”

According to the township website, the West Bloomfield Police Department is ranked 12th statewide of the safest communities in Michigan by Alarms.org and No. 1 for communities with a population over 25,000.

The West Bloomfield Fire Department provides services to citizens of West Bloomfield, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake and Sylvan Lake.

The International Organization for Standardization provides rankings ranging from Class 1 to Class 10, with Class 1 representing superior fire protection and Class 10 indicating that an area’s fire-suppression program doesn’t meet ISO’s minimum criteria.

According to West Bloomfield’s website, the township has an ISO protection classification of 3. The West Bloomfield Fire Department’s services include fire suppression and emergency medical services.

“We think that the public is more than satisfied with public safety, because whenever we seek to renew the millage rate, it’s passed overwhelmingly — fire and safety have a separate millage,” Kaplan said. “Public safety includes dispatch, police and fire. … We receive praiseworthy comments regarding public safety — it’s frequent.”

West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton is of the opinion that it is a partnership with the community that makes public safety so successful in the township.

“The Police Department is embedded with everybody in the township — our schools, our library, our parks and rec, the homeowners associations, the clergy association, service clubs like (the) Optimist Club, and other organizations in the township,” Patton said. “The police have a function in the community; we, hopefully, prevent crime by our presence, but we also follow up and investigate the crimes that do occur. West Bloomfield, always, has been a safe community. We’re recognized for that.”

Patton would like to keep it that way, and communication is key to accomplishing that.

“Our residents, our businesses and our community partners here, they should not be shy about ever calling us. I would rather have our officers be contacted on 99 false alarms than not be there the one time that we should be there,” Patton said. “I think that’s where there’s potential to fail, is that people sit back and think, ‘Let’s not call the police — it’s no big deal,’ or, ‘We’re somehow bothering the police by calling.’ … We always want to be there when we need to be there.”

West Bloomfield Fire Department Chief Greg Flynn discussed expectations community members have of the Fire Department.

“I believe our residents want us there quickly when they call; they want us to be the professionals that they expect — look the part and be there with the equipment ready to go to work, and then show up with the knowledge (and) skill set,” Flynn said. “So, be quick, be professional, and know what to do. And we do all that kinda wrapped in kindness, and that’s really what I think helps us, very often, exceed the expectations of our residents. … Relationships take work, and we value that relationship with our residents, and I think that’s what shows year after year — the success on our public safety front, with the residents of West Bloomfield and those that visit West Bloomfield.”

Kaplan shared another change that may eventually be implemented in the township.

“We’re trying to accelerate the time frame involved on permits. We’re looking for ways to … expedite the process,” he said. “And then when it relates to a development or redevelopment, because we have very strong environmental standards, our turnover time might be slower than another municipality that doesn’t have the protections we have. For instance, we’re one of the few communities that has a wetlands ordinance and a woodland ordinance.”

Kaplan is of the opinion that there are still lingering issues from the pandemic, although he said, “that’s probably more a state issue — state and federal.”

“The pandemic has hurt communities because businesses have closed,” Kaplan said. “We’ve had probably 70 businesses close, but then we had another 70 that opened. But we’ve lost staples in the community because the cost of doing business has increased. But mainly, employers are having a difficult time in retaining and hiring employees — there aren’t as many applicants.”

Aside from the current state of affairs, he has also thought about longer-term possibilities for the township.

In an email, Kaplan stated that West Bloomfield is striving for Town Hall vehicles — other than police vehicles — to be electric.

He also stated that the township hopes to enact an ordinance that would provide greater protection “to our natural beauty roads (3.5 miles, mainly in the Walnut Lake/Halstead area).”

“We would like to become more environmentally sound, in terms of carbon neutrality — electric vehicles,” Kaplan said. “We formed a committee to make recommendations to the Township Board — global warming, issues like that. … The environmental features need to be protected, and we strive to do so.”