Lawmakers want to hit brakes on free MIS policing
Michigan taxpayers are on the hook for up to $800,000 a year for state police patrols at a handful of events at Michigan International Speedway, one of the few venues in the country that doesn’t reimburse law enforcement for providing security.
Since 2008, Michigan taxpayers have paid $5.3 million for patrols at the Brooklyn speedway, about 20 miles south of Jackson.
Between 2008, when lawmakers approved subsidizing patrols at MIS, and 2011, the public paid an average of $389,000 a year. That cost has skyrocketed since 2012, when MIS officials decided to stop paying about $300,000 annually for orange barrels used to direct traffic to the venue, which holds 70,000 people. Each year, the Legislature has passed, and Gov. Rick Snyder approved, budgets that cover the extra money for barrels, increasing the average annual taxpayer cost to $756,000 from 2012 to 2016.
Some state lawmakers are questioning whether taxpayers should pay for the patrols while others are pushing for $800,000 in the fiscal year 2017-18 budget for the speedway. Critics insist the cost is exorbitant, especially since MIS has events scheduled for only three weekends this season: the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 June 16-18; the Faster Horses country music festival July 21-23; and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 Aug. 11-13.
By comparison, Auburn Hills police last year were reimbursed $226,000 to patrol 160 events at The Palace, including 41 Detroit Pistons games; while Oakland County sheriff’s deputies were paid $485,000 in 2015, the last year for which figures are available, to patrol several dozen events at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Meadow Brook Theatre and the Renaissance Festival.
“It’s special interests, very powerful special interests that have the ear of key stakeholders,” said state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, who insists taxpayers should not foot the bill for MIS patrols. “The head of the MIS seems to be always on or near the Senate floor near appropriations time.”
When asked whether taxpayers should continue subsidizing patrols at the speedway, track president Rick Brenner said in a statement: “We appreciate the partnership with the state of Michigan to provide all of our guests, including those from out of state and Canada, with a safe and memorable experience here in Michigan.”
The issue of reimbursement for police guarding sporting and entertainment venues surfaced last month when Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Sheriff Benny Napoleon submitted a proposal for county sheriffs to take over patrols from the Detroit Police Department at Ilitch Holdings arenas in downtown Detroit.
Ilitch Holdings has never reimbursed the city for patrols around Tiger Stadium, Comerica Park or Joe Louis Arena, while the Detroit Lions pay for patrols around Ford Field. The City Council in 2006 discussed passing an ordinance forcing the company to pay about $1 million annually for patrolling 81 home Tiger games and 41 home Red Wing games, along with other events at the venues. The effort petered out.
The draft proposal floated by Wayne County calls for Ilitch Holdings to reimburse taxpayers for patrols at Tiger games this summer as well as Red Wings and Pistons games at the new arena when it opens in September.
The plan would have to be approved by the Wayne County Deputy Sheriff’s Association union. No date has been set for a vote.
If the county proposal doesn’t pass, Detroit police will be reimbursed for “reasonable security costs” for off-duty officers in the Secondary Employment program to patrol in and around Little Caesars Arena when it opens later this year, according to a 2014 agreement between the city and Olympia Entertainment, a division of Ilitch Holdings.
The 2014 agreement, which does not define what is considered a reasonable cost, only covers the new arena. It’s unclear whether the city will continue to provide free patrols at Comerica Park if the deputies’ union fails to approve the proposal.
The Detroit News submitted to the city a Freedom of Information Act request seeking any written agreement exempting Ilitch-owned teams from paying for patrols. City officials said they’re still working on the request.
Many municipalities, both locally and nationwide, are reimbursed for providing police at sporting and entertainment venues, although at least two organizations in Michigan — Ilitch-owned teams and MIS — do not pay.
The Lions also reimbursed Pontiac when they played in the Silverdome and Ann Arbor is reimbursed for University of Michigan games.
Snyder in November appointed former MIS President Roger Curtis as director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, although the governor each year has proposed eliminating MIS funding from the budget, State Budget Office spokesman Kurt Weiss said.
“This $800,000 in funding for MIS is not something that’s included in the governor’s recommended budget, but gets placed into the budget as the Legislature recommends their priorities, so this issue has been part of the negotiations process in getting the final budget done,” Weiss said. “There is always give and take in getting a final budget agreed upon, and this funding item is one that has historically been agreed upon.”
While Snyder proposed eliminating the MIS funding from the 2017-18 budget, a House subcommittee, as in previous years, moved to reinsert the money in a budget bill approved last week. The Senate appropriations subcommittee on state police and military affairs a day later advanced a budget that would strip the $800,000 in funding for “traffic control” services at MIS, as proposed by the governor. But within the hour, a state House panel advanced a budget that restored the full $800,000.
State Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, spoke out against the MIS funding and proposed an amendment that was rejected in a 2-3 vote.
“I truly believe that it’s the business’ obligation to pay that, not the state,” said Brann, a restaurant owner from west Michigan who questioned why taxpayers from his district should have to help support a speedway on the other side of the state.
House appropriations subcommittee chairman Aaron Miller, R-Sherman Township, called it a “worthy discussion” but ultimately voted for the speedway patrol funding.
“It would have an impact on the business, and also the community,” said Rep. Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, who also voted to retain the MIS funding, which he called a “subsidy.”
Sgt. Amy Dehner, a legislative liaison for Michigan State Police, said the department provides traffic control services on state highways that surround MIS, along with aerial support.
“The mission for us is a little bit different than any of the other events we do, in that we only are providing traffic control enforcement,” she said. “We don’t do foot patrols in the venue like we do at UM football games or Ford Field.”
Dehner said it is not clear if MIS would decide to pay for the service itself if state funding was cut.
“We’re certainly not going to provide services where we either can’t get reimbursement or aren’t paid for our services,” she said. “That’s our model for every enforcement initiative we have.”