Survey: Residents unaware of township deficit
More than 90 percent of Bloomfield Township residents surveyed about how best to address a structural budget deficit being mulled by the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees are unaware of the budget issue, according to results of a recent resident survey.
“By a margin of 86.8 percent, township residents believe the township is on the right track,” a recent survey of 400 Bloomfield Township residents found. “The 86.8 percent level represents a remarkably strong level of approval of the direction of the township.”
The survey by the Glengariff Group, including both landlines and cell phone numbers, was conducted at the direction of the township board of trustees to get a better understanding of residents' feelings about $164 million in unfunded liabilities that has resulted in a structural deficit in the township's budget that must be closed by a mandate of the state in the next year through budget cuts, new taxes or a combination of the two.
Despite feeling the township was moving in the right direction, more than 90 percent of respondents were unaware of the structural deficit.
“Only 7.3 percent of residents have seen, heard or read about the deficit, while 92.3 percent haven't,” the survey said, adding that it was entirely new information to nine out of 10 residents surveyed.
Despite being unaware of the problem, residents had varying opinions on how best to address the issue. About 8.3 percent of residents supported increased fees or taxes; 27.8 percent supported cutting the existing budget; 54.8 percent supported a combination of cuts and taxes; and 9.3 percent didn't know. The highest level of residents supporting budget cuts was from residents with household incomes of more than $250,000 annually.
The deficit issue arose after the township announced in December that the state would now require municipalities to fund at least 40 percent of unfunded liabilities, including pensions and OPEB, or Other Post-Employment Benefits, outside of retiree pension benefits, such as health care, disability and other services. State law had previously allowed municipalities to fund those expenses as they were incurred, and Bloomfield Township had been a “pay as you go” municipality. The change means the township will need about $65 million to fund its OPEB liabilities at 40 percent.
In order to meet the new funding obligations, the township must increase payments for the next 30 years by about $5 million to $7 million annually, creating a structural deficit in the annual budget.
To find long-term solutions, the township contracted with Plante Moran financial consultants to help determine financial fixes, as well as Glengariff, which conducted the survey.
Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said that despite support for eliminating animal welfare, he wasn't quick to implement the elimination, as many residents do support the service, which would amount well under a million dollars in savings. Savoie suggested at a Tuesday, March 2, budget study session that cuts be held until after voters give an up or down vote to any taxes to cover the deficit.
Residents surveyed were presented with nine different recommendations developed by Plante Moran and told the pros and cons of each. Residents supported by 68.1 percent, consolidating or reducing services in some departments; 58.3 percent supported adding a one percent property tax assessment fee; 55.1 percent supported eliminating the township's animal control division.
About 80.3 percent of residents opposed eliminating police positions; 59.1 percent opposed eliminating general fund support for road maintenance; and about 57.6 percent opposed eliminating public safety dispatching services in the township.
Overall, the survey found that six of the nine recommendations could or would win support from residents. Those include consolidating departments; adding an administrative fee for property taxes; contracting property assessment services; elimination of the animal welfare division; elimination of some optional programs; and elimination of fire support from Station No. 4. Three of the nine had strong opposition, including contracting for dispatch services; elimination of general fund support for road maintenance; and elimination of police staff.
“As previously mentioned, 90.3 percent of residents give the township marks of excellent or good for quality of services delivered,” the survey results stated. “When asked if they would be willing to accept lower services to balance the structural deficit, 37.4 percent said yes; 41 percent said no; and 19.7 percent said it depends on which services were cut.”