Funding always has been and always will be an issue with municipal government. Bloomfield Township is no exception. On Aug. 6 the residents of Bloomfield Township will be asked to vote on a special assessment district (SAD) to fund public safety. This proposal will ask voters to fund retirement and health care promises for all active and retired police officers, firefighters and dispatchers.
Bloomfield Township has always followed the state guidelines for retiree health care. The state has allowed municipalities to be “pay as you go” communities, meaning the premiums could be paid by current funding. In 2017 the state changed its position and is requiring municipalities to fund the actuarial determined amount of retiree health care. In our particular case the funding just for health care is $2 million per year (in today’s dollars) for the next 30 years just to get to a 40 percent funding level. This is the minimum level mandated by the state. Over and above that we have and will continue to have an additional constitutionally mandated contribution of $3.5 to $4 million to the defined benefit plan for our active employees and our retirees.
There are some people who do not believe this is a public safety issue. There are some people who claim Bloomfield Township has been mismanaged or that Bloomfield Township needs to control its costs.
There are some serious misconceptions out there about this SAD. Here are the facts:
Police, fire and dispatch are almost 70 percent of all employees and retirees in Bloomfield Township. Public safety is funded by four millages. Over and above that the general fund contributes another $6.6 million into the public safety operations. This SAD will allow public safety to operate on its own, and the general fund can contribute to the pensions and retiree’s health care.
Bloomfield Township has not been mismanaged. Bloomfield Township has always paid its bills. Bloomfield Township has always met its obligations to the retirees. Among other things, the rating agencies in awarding Bloomfield Township their highest credit rating (AAA) have focused on the quality management found in Bloomfield Township. Management is complying with a mandated state change.
Bloomfield Township has controlled its costs. We changed from a Defined Benefit Plan to a Defined Contribution Plan in 2005 for all of the new hires. In 2011 we closed the retiree health care plan for all new hires. These two changes alone have saved millions of dollars in future legacy costs. We switched our healthcare to a high deductible plan that has saved millions of dollars as well. We constantly look for ways to cut costs on an annual basis, while continuing to deliver the highest services expected by our residents.
Why can’t we change the retirement ages of our police officers and firefighters? Contractually they are able to retire at 50 and 52 years of age. They may not be eligible for a full retirement at that age depending when they started, but they are eligible to retire. These and other aspects of their employment have been negotiated over the years. Under state law, police officers and firefighters are not able to strike. Because of this they have binding arbitration. Many of these benefits have been awarded by the arbitrators over the years with no recourse from the municipalities. When deciding what to rule in arbitration the arbitrators look to see what other communities are doing. I have a list of 12 adjacent municipalities in which at a minimum a police officer and/or a firefighter can retire and start receiving a pension after 25 years of service regardless of their age to a maximum of 52 years of age.
Some people say “don’t give the employees raises.” The current wage increases for active employees are two percent. Again, approximately 70 percent of these are contractually agreed through collective bargaining agreements. They say “don’t give the raises to the non-union employees.” If we did that, within 12 months every employee would be covered by some type of collective bargaining agreement. More importantly, with 3.8 percent unemployment we would lose employees to other municipalities or to the private sector that have a higher pay scale/benefit package. We have already lost seven employees to other municipalities or the private sector because they can make more money or receive better benefits.
Other suggestions are to get rid of the animal shelter, no longer do electronic waste, household hazardous waste or paper shredding events. Stop the gypsy moth program that protects our trees. Outsource our assessing department to the county. These are all programs the residents’ value and would only save a nominal amount of money. We would still need to do the SAD to raise $4-plus million.
Some people will tell you the increase is 2.3 mills. In fact the net increase is only 1.05 mills as we would let a current millage of 1.25 mils expire if the voters approve the SAD. The increase to the average homeowner would be $219 per year. If there is no SAD we can make the necessary cuts to meet the funding mandates. We would do this by having 10 fewer police officers and six to eight fewer firefighters. With the number of retirements coming up we can do this through attrition over the next year or so. We are already down three police officers and four firefighters at the present time. Additionally, we support the road department with $1.4 million from the general fund. This funding would go away.
Some people (including two elected officials) have referred to non-public safety employees as “non-essential.” Every employee at Bloomfield Township is essential. We have mechanics who fix the vehicles; the IT department that allows communications; the finance department that pays the bills and keeps the books; the clerk’s department that keeps track of all the records; and the treasurer’s office that collects the taxes and other revenues. The road department keeps the streets safe and clean throughout the year. These are all individuals who collectively with police, fire and dispatch work as a team to keep our community safe.
We have changed the way we offer benefits to our employees; however, we have obligations from the past that must be met. Do I wish past promises had been funded? I do but I cannot turn back the clock. I can only go forward. I am not covered under any of these plans. My objective is to be fiscally responsible, keeping the promises made from the past while maintaining the high standards expected by our community. I am a resident, so any increase is going to impact me as well.
Over the next 60 days we will be hosting numerous town hall meetings for anyone with questions or concerns regarding the SAD. These meetings will be question and answer programs affording an unlimited amount of time for every person. We want every resident to have all of the information before they vote on Aug. 6. Please go to our website for the dates and times.
Bloomfield Township is best in class. Our product is service. The services are delivered by our employees. It is my hope we can continue to do the things required to keep Bloomfield Township BEST IN CLASS.
Bloomfield Township Supervisor