Bloomfield Twp. tax issue faces opposition

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Township — Officials are asking township voters next week to approve a $135 million special assessment but could face some hard questions at a town hall meeting Wednesday night.

The proposal, which is on the Aug. 6 primary ballot, faces opposition from a citizens group that want to draw the line on taxes. The No Special Assessment District group believes township officials are ignoring ways to cut spending and limit the tax burden on residents who are already paying the state maximum of 10 mills.

A 2.3-mill, 15-year special assessment proposal on the Aug. 6 ballot is generating controversy in Bloomfield Township.

The special assessment proposal calls for a 2.3-mill tax to raise $9 million a year for the next 15 years "to equip, maintain, and operate the Township Police/Fire Departments," according to the ballot language.

“This is not necessary; the millage is not needed,” said Mary LeDuc of the citizens group, which favors reducing employee benefits or outsourcing township services, like animal control, to Oakland County.

“But instead our elected officials are using the SAD to raise money from residents beyond the maximum to fund their free-spending ways,” said LeDuc. “This is the first time a SAD is being used in the township to raise funds for spending that does not increase the value or your home, like as happens in new sewer system or road SADs.

“We think there are other ways the township’s $48 million budget can be cut and we want officials to consider alternative ways rather than taxing us more.”

The township said approval would mean the average homeowner would see $219 a year in new taxes.

Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said he is prepared to tell residents at the 7 p.m. meeting at the township hall that belt-tightening measures will have to be taken if the proposal fails.

“If it is rejected, we will have to come up with (budget) cuts,” Savoie said. “It could be eliminating 10 police officers and eight firefighters.”

The township has 67 police officers and 60 firefighters, Savoie said, adding the force is down four officers due to a hiring freeze and five firefighters due to retirements.

Pete Mehra, a township resident, said the township board hired Plante Moran to identify cost reductions and they “came up with potential savings of $6.7 million.”

Among possible areas to trim: current benefits and pay; cars and gas provided to every department head; contracting with the county for township services currently provided residents by the township animal control, assessing and roads departments.

“The Board of Trustees has taken no action on these savings but has proposed this SAD instead,” Mehra said. He believes township leaders are trying to scare voters into approving the special assessment.

“The supervisor is using the normal threat to lay off police and fire if the tax is not passed ..." he said.

Mehra referenced a social media post by township board member Dani Walsh that said residents were hearing a “misleading message” at town halls, which she described as a “scare tactic.” 

“This has been mischaracterized as a public safety, issue but it's not,” Walsh told The News. “We trustees all agreed not to cut police,, fire, roads or senior services. If the voters say yes, then we proceed in that direction.

“But if the vote is no, then we will be looking to responsibly cut other areas and come back with another option for taxpayers …”

Trustee David Buckley agreed, saying while he opposes the ballot question, he will work with other officials in any direction they determine.

“I love my fire department — they saved my life,” Buckley said, noting that in November 2017, firefighters shocked his heart en route to an area hospital. “But scaring people with layoffs is fake news. It's a lie and it's not going to happen. If residents vote no, we will find a way out of our problems.”

Buckley, a lifelong township resident who has been on the board for 17 years, said "there are other avenues we can explore” to meet health care expenses and growing retiree and pension costs.

“And if you want residents to support something this large, you have to show you're ready to make some sacrifice on your own,” he said.

Walsh said all 270 township employees — 60% of whom work in the police or fire departments — have had the state-required 20% contribution for health care waived by the township. Employees have a $5,000 deductible but the township picks up the first $3,000, he said.

Additionally, about 200 township retirees receive health or “legacy benefits,” Buckley said.

“The average cost of a health care for an employee family is $16 a month,” Walsh said. “That is a pretty generous perk.”

Savoie, meanwhile, bristled at the suggestion that there is something improper with him forming a PAC.

“Just because I am an elected official doesn’t mean I have to give up my rights as a resident and taxpayer,” he said.

But David Thomas, a treasurer for the NOSAD group, said Savoie is “acting as an employee not someone who has been elected to represent taxpayers.”

Thomas said the township can save nearly $4 million in the following areas:

  • $1.2 million: employees paying 20% of health care premiums.
  • $1 million: outsourcing services.
  • $800,000: reducing 401(a) contributions, currently 10% to 14%.
  • $700,000: reduce use of consultants, law firms and no-bid contracts.

Another resident, David Roznowski, believes the SAD is a “workaround for township leaders to continue their fiscal irresponsibility.”

“I fully support our public safety personnel, but this proposal is eerily similar to the mismanagement going on in other local municipalities such as Royal Oak and Birmingham,” said Roznowski, a three-year township resident and CEO of Kinetic Communications Marketing.

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