Tuesday night’s meeting was standing room only. This was the largest gathering of residents that I have seen attend a Chesterfield Township board meeting in the three years that I have been attending. The topic was the Police department layoffs. The Police officers were there in full force with their friends and family’s by their sides. They were there to protect their jobs and voice their concerns.
Trustee Joseph began by requesting that the Approval of the nights Agenda be removed from Consent Agenda and moved to the Regular Agenda with the addendum added for a discussion of a moratorium on the Police Department Layoffs to be held. There was much confusion as to what exactly Joseph was asking for and after repeating his request numerous times, Supervisor Lovelock held counsel with the Township Attorney that allowed the removal of the item from Consent Agenda and then placed on the Regular Agenda.
During the board discussion on the Regular Agenda, Joseph
requested a moratorium be considered so that the board and the citizens had
additional time to look at all other possibilities rather than just issue
lay-off notices to almost half of the Police force. There was much heated debate amongst the board members. Half the board stated that although they support the Police department, the citizens spoke during the last election and did not pass the 2.5mil increase that was in perpetuity. They said the board should have
considered a “Sunset clause” or expiration date on this ballot issue. They felt
that because the language on the ballot did not have an expiration date, this
was the main reason the citizens had voted it down.
Trustee DeMuynck asked Joseph for a time frame on the
moratorium of 30 days. Joseph responded that he did not think that all the
efforts could be accomplished within a 30 day window, and proposed a 90 day
time frame. Again there was debate with DeMuynck offering 45 days. Finally an
agreement was made to include language that gave the board “up to 90 days” for
Officer Brian McNair approached the podium to address the
board members during this Regular Agenda discussion. Supervisor Lovelock asked
him to be seated and told him that he could address the board during the
comment section of the meeting at the end. Joseph responded by asking if it was
the Supervisors intent to block citizen discussion from the Regular Agenda.
Lovelock responded that there would be no discussion from the citizens during
the Regular Agenda because it has never been done. He again asserted that there
would be no discussion from the audience and moved for a vote on the moratorium at hand. The vote was made with a 5-2 vote in favor of providing the moratorium with only Lovelock and Bell dissenting.
I spoke during the 5 minute comment section and informed the
Supervisor that by moving the discussion from the Consent Agenda to the Regular
Agenda, Public comment should have been allowed and that he was wrong for
I also wanted to reiterate the question I posed to Police
Chief Smith at his town hall meeting in October. I ask him a simple question of
“what is your mitigation plan if the ballot initiative fails”. The Chief
responded with “I have no mitigation plan except to cut the budget”. I found
this to be unacceptable. I also asked him why a 5 year sunset clause was not included. His answer was that he did not find it fair to have his officer’s worry about their jobs every 5 years.
I also went on record and stated that I did not vote for the
proposal and that my choice to vote “no” was fiscal only. I did not agree with
offering up an open checking book and telling the police department that they
can continue to tax me forever.
Others have pointed out how our taxes in this community have
gone down and that we are paying less now than we were 4 or 5 years ago. This
may be true as a dollar value but in the 12 years that I have lived here I have
seen my taxes go up from 31.3925 Mils in 2000 to 39.6024 Mils in 2012 (not
including the recently passed increase in the Fire Department), an increase by
8.21 Mils in 12 years while my house value has dropped by up to 40%. Please don’t tell me that I pay lower taxes now. This includes all of the additional mileage increases from Chesterfield, Macomb and the State of Michigan. I also understand that the township has not been immune from the housing bubble collapse that has taken place all over the US. I also realize that as the economy slowly recovers the housing values and hence the tax base will also increase. Along with this we have major developers renewing interest in Chesterfield. Housing developers along with major retailers have either built here or have plans on building here. All of this will only help the tax base that has been lost due to the recession.
I informed the board that I would be OK with another ballot
initiative be placed on the next general election asking the citizens to
consider further funding the police department with an additional tax and a
time frame. My concern is that less than 5% of the registered voters traditionally show up for “Special elections”. Just to give some perspective on this number,
on May 4, 2010 the total voter turnout was 4.98%. The State Primary on August
3, 2010 was only 20.96%. The state General election in November of 2010 was
44.93%. Now let us look at the Presidential election this past November that
had a turnout at 66.89%. These special elections also boast a large majority
that has been hand selected to support the ballot. This is not a true representation of the Township at large. A general election would be the proper place to place such a large tax burden initiative.
In July of 2011 the township’s financial director Victoria
Bauer said that Police expenses are expected to be about $9 million, resulting
in a projected loss of about $1.5 million. The loss will be covered by money
from the police fund balance.
“At the end of 2010, we had a fund balance in the police
department of $5,709,000, approximately,” Bauer said during the meeting. “There is a loss projected for 2011 and 2012, so if you go through both of those
losses, it’s projected to have a fund balance of $3,164,978.”
How much money is left in this fund? Can this be tapped to help fill the void for
the 90 days for salaries while new ideas are brought to the table and
discussions are happening?
My question to Police Chief Smith, Supervisor Lovelock,
Christina Bell and Vicki Bauer would be: “If the Police Fund balance was
projected at $3,164,978 at the end of 2012, and as Vicki stated any loss will
be covered by money from the Police fund balance, what would an additional 90
days to seek input from board members and citizens do to this fund balance?”
As late as January 8th 2013 the Police Chief was quoted as saying: “The department’s funded for this year, but we’re going to have to sit down with the board and make some decisions...We haven’t done that yet,” and although department officials said voter rejection of the proposal could lead to as many as 17 layoffs, the chief said that will not immediately happen. Now one month later, layoff notices go out to the Police officers?