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Hazel Park, Eastpointe voters OK fire plan

Jim Lynch, Charles E. Ramirez and Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

Hazel Park and Eastpointe voters approved a 14-mill tax levy to cover the cost of fire and rescue services in both communities.

Eastpointe resident Maria Meli votes at Precinct 5 in the Michigan Military Technical And Historical Society in Eastpointe, Michigan on February 24, 2015.

In Hazel Park, 73 percent of voters supported the levy; Eastpointe voters approved that same levy with 61 percent of the vote. The two communities were among a handful of Metro Detroit suburbs with elections Tuesday.

"The people of Hazel Park support their firefighters and their police officers and city services," said Edward Klobucher city manager. "The best people in the whole world live in Hazel Park. That is why we have been able to survive these tough times."

Passage means creation of the South Macomb Oakland Regional Services Authority, a public financing mechanism that will lessen the financial difficulties in both noncontiguous, aging communities — in different counties — officials said.

Other ballot issues

In other voting Tuesday, according to unofficial counts:

■Hamtramck voters rejected a school operating millage renewal of 18.18 mills through 2025.

■In Macomb County's Ray Township, two millage renewals for Fire and Rescue Department passed. One was a 1-mill increase to replace emergency vehicles at the fire department. The other was a 1.5-mill increase for department operations. Both passed with 67 percent "yes" votes. Both millages are through 2020.

■Dearborn Heights voters rejected a bond request for nearly $4.6 million, which would have been spent on technology improvements. It failed on a 52-48 percent vote.

■In Plymouth, voters narrowly defeated a 1.5 millage that would have boosted funding for the Plymouth Public Safety Department for five years. The millage, which would have raised $700,000, lost by 550-594.

It would have allowed the city to pay for two additional police officers and replace a 41-year-old fire truck.

Plymouth City Commissioner Dan Dalton said he was disappointed by the result. "We'll move forward and look at other options and go from there," he said.

■ Plymouth Township voters overwhelmingly approved two millage proposals for police and fire. One was a 0.56-mill renewal; the other a 2-mill renewal, rolled back under the Headlee Amendment to 1.6 mills, both through 2035.

■Wyandotte voters easily passed a bond referendum allowing its public schools to spend $39 million on facility improvements.

Two suburbs, same struggles

While 10 miles apart, Eastpointe and Hazel Park have similar financial struggles. Both are landlocked and fully developed inner-ring suburbs that suffered a substantial decline in taxable property values as a result of the foreclosure crisis that began in 2008.

For Eastpointe, with a population of more than 30,000, it's estimated the millage would generate more than $5.8 million for its emergency services in the first year, city officials said. The average homeowner would pay about $345 a year.

In Hazel Park, with a population of 16,000, the estimated amount raised would be more than $2.3 million and it would cost the average homeowner about $139 a year, officials said.

The authority did not have to pass in both communities for it to go into effect. Approval by a majority of all votes cast between the two communities was all that's needed.

"We are not establishing any new level of bureaucracy," said Klobucher. "We are not adding any administrative expenses. The money that is raised will stay in their communities."

"I will never proclaim having property owners pay more taxes is a great thing but it was a very necessary and historical decision that was made in Eastpointe today and for our friends in Hazel Park," said City Manager Steve Duchane.

"Tomorrow we get down to work on the first budget, after this millage takes place in July, we can put some long-term sustainability into the city."

Duchane said Eastpointe's credit rating, A+, was reaffirmed Tuesday from the Standard & Poor's Wall Street ratings house.

"This should be a model," Duchane said of the unusual collaboration between his city and Hazel Park. "We will do joint purchasing. We will share special services so all those things will take place. And if we can apply for grants as a larger cooperative we certainly will."

Eastpointe voter Kimberly Cochran said she had become friends with police officers who come by the Tim Hortons where she works. She said she voted for the proposal.

"It is important ... to come out and vote and use this ability to say how you feel," said Cochran, a Macomb Community College student.

Hazel Park voter Lawrence Burleson, 59, said he too voted in favor of the proposal.

"I want to maintain our Fire Department services," said the 15-year resident, who voted at the city's Community Center.