Chesterfield Township residents will be asked to pay higher taxes for police and fire services.
The Board of Trustees decided Wednesday to place a millage increase for police as well as a millage renewal and increase for fire on the general election ballot. The trustees unanimously agreed that the higher taxes are needed to keep the departments afloat in light of decreased revenue from property taxes.
"It's now in the voters' hands," Supervisor Michael Lovelock said after the board agreed to place the issues on the November ballot during the special meeting.
What the ballot proposals mean for residents
The fire department will ask voters to renew the existing mills, along with a .75 mill increase. The additional .75 mills will be added to the previously collected 2 mills for operations. The previously collected .5 mills for equipment will be also be on the ballot for renewal. If approved, the tax collection would be in effect for 20 years.
The police department already collects 5 mills that do not require renewal. Voters will asked to approve another 2.5 mills that would be also be collected annually in perpetuity.
That means residents who own a house with a market value of $150,000 would pay a total of $243.75 extra annually if the police and fire taxes are approved, according to township officials.
"I know it's a hardship for some people financially but this may be the only way we can do it," Trustee Christine Bell said. "Maybe this is a necessary evil, this millage."
Treasurer Linda Hartman agreed the millages should be placed on the ballot, but said "It makes me a little uncomfortable to ask the residents to bear so much."
Some residents criticized the endless tax collection for police and the 20-year collection for fire.
"Personally, I think both millage increases should be revisited in a maximum of 10 years," Lou Nigro told the board.
Township: police and fire in financial danger
Since 2007, the fire department has been operating with less manpower. The department went on 3,000 runs last year and is currently about 240 runs ahead of that pace this year. Each of the three stations are staffed with two employees--less than many other fire departments, Charbonneau said.
If residents don't renew the millage, the department cannot exist. But, the added .75 mills sought will mean a balanced budget and about $600,000 for savings in the first year, he said.
Lovelock told the chief, "You lost $600,000 in four years due to the downturn of the economy...Basically, we just want to get back to where we were four years ago."
Trustee Michele Ficht, who was on the committee that explored fire finances, said "It's just to maintain services the way they are...I don't think we're overreaching."
Police Chief Bruce Smith, who says 92 percent of department revenues come from property taxes, told the board, "When we go to the voters, we have to ask for an amount that would make the police department solvent."
A financial audit showed the police fund is expected to be completely depleted in four to five years.
"This is a long-term problem," said township Finance Director Victoria Bauer, referring to the department's losses from declining property values.
Smith said without the tax increase, he expects major cuts--losing at least 17 officers--on the force. Lovelock told the board and audience members that residents paying an average of $20 a month more is worth keeping the township's police and fire in the community.
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