Residents Call for Fire Budget Compromise
Plymouth Township Board accepts millage ballot question for February vote at higher millage rate than petition projected.
Plymouth Township residents called upon firefighters and the township's board of trustees Monday night to compromise on fire contract negotiations amid a public hearing over a possible fire millage.
Funds raised from the millage, which will appear on the Feb. 28 ballot, would make up for $900,000 each year the township is losing after Dec. 31 when the City of Plymouth ends its joint fire operations with Plymouth Township to partner with the City of Northville. The tax would apply to all taxable properties in the township, while maintaining a full-time firefighter staff, preserving firefighter-run paramedic services and keeping all existing fire stations in the township open.
Funds raised from the millage, if it passes, won't be available until 2013, however, and the township has already passed its 2012 budget, which calls for 23 percent in cuts to the fire department.
The debate over the township's fire budget has simmered for months, and just last week the township sent out a newsletter warning residents of the ramifications of passing such a millage. Many residents who attended the public hearing, however, called for the groups to find common ground.
Rich Childs, who said he owns several properties in the area, said he has seen "disingenuous" information coming from both sides of the debate and he wants to see concessions from both parties.
He said the department needs to adjust its staffing to reflect the smaller coverage area with the City of Plymouth out of the equation. Still, he said, he wants to see strong fire services in the community — and more objective information being presented to residents.
"I'm looking for compromise," he said. "It just feels like we're getting pushed here. There's been a lot of push with what I see is not good fact."
The Citizens Action Group of Plymouth Township originally petitioned for one mill to fund the department five years. Because of state law, however, voters cannot set the rate at which they are taxed in special assessment districts; the board of trustees sets the rate up to 10 mills. Township Supervisor Richard Reaume said the millage also would last indefinitely, without a clear end date.
Joe Heffernan from auditing firm Plante Moran said a millage would need to be passed at 2.444 mills — for a total of about $3.837 million — in order to fund the existing level of services and cover pensions and health insurance for retired firefighters. This would be on top of 1.3 mills already being paid for emergency services in the township, resulting in an average yearly increase of $268.13 per household, Heffernan said.
Greg Mangan, treasurer for the firefighters union, debated that number, saying the one mill requested in the petition would raise about $1.6 million — more than enough to make up the $900,000 shortfall from the City of Plymouth leaving the township's fire operations.
Residents weigh both sides of issue
The public hearing saw commenters from both sides of the aisle, including some who just wanted both sides of the issue to play nice.
Robert Meyers, a lifelong Plymouth Township resident, said the township's firefighters had to make further concessions in light of the township's legacy costs and tight budget.
"Enough is enough," he said. "We need to start digging our heels in."
Some residents said they just want the township and fire union to settle their differences and sort out their contract negotiations.
Greg Dobrowski suggested fire department employees switch retirement plans to 401(k) instead of pension plans to save the township money.
Question goes to county for ballot inclusion
Deputy Clerk Eric Bacyinski said he will sign and send the proposed ballot question to Wayne County election officials today. The deadline for submission, he said, is 4 p.m. today. Township Clerk Joe Bridgman has been on leave for a family emergency.
The ballot question reads as follows:
A proposal to create a special assessment district for fire services comprising all of the land of the Charter Township of Plymouth except tax exempt property under Public Act 33 of the Public Acts of 1951, MCL 41.801 et seq., thereby authorizing the Charter Township of Plymouth Board of Trustees, after public hearing, to annually assess and levy on the lands specially benefited an ad valorem special assessment based on the taxable value of the property in the special assessment district, in an amount not to exceed .10 percent of the taxable value of the property assessed (10 mills) for fire vehicles, equipment, apparatus and housing; and further authorizing the Charter Township of Plymouth Board of Trustees, after public hearing, to annually assess and levy on the lands specially benefited an ad valorem special assessment based on the taxable value of the property in the special assessment district, in the amount necessary for operation and maintenance of fire services.
Shall the proposed Special Assessment Fire District be created and the assessment be authorized? (Yes or No)
Those who won't be able to vote in person in February, he said, can apply for an absentee ballot through Feb. 25. Several residents at the public hearing voiced concern about being out of Michigan during the winter months. Those interested in voting absentee, Bacyinski said, can contact him at the township clerk's office at (734) 354-3228, via email at email@example.com or by stopping in at Plymouth Township Hall.