Township supervisor outlines SAD vote scenarios

May 31, 2019

Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie, at a meeting on Tuesday, May 28, presented potential budget scenarios to the board of trustees that could play out in regard to the passage or rejection of a public safety special assessment district (SAD) that will be voted on by residents on August 6.

"I'm not putting it out there as scare tactics," Savoie said, outlining the elimination of about 10 police officers, eight firefighters/paramedics and other measures to cover an estimated $5 million annual budget shortfall should the proposed tax fail to gain voter approval.

"I think we could make those cuts. Would it be optimum? No, it wouldn't be optimum," he said. "But I think as a township, it's imperative and prudent that we look at staffing ourselves for a worst case scenario because worst case scenarios do in fact happen, and we would not be at an optimum level if that were to occur."

The scenarios are the same information Savoie noted he has been sharing with residents at a series of public information meetings about the proposed 15-year SAD. The question-and-answer sessions focus on a proposed 2.3-mill public safety tax. If approved, the SAD would provide about $9 million a year to police and fire operations. The township also would terminate the final year of a 10-year millage approved in 2010, eliminating about $4.85 million in current tax revenue. The SAD would result in an overall net increase of 1.05 mills, decreasing the township's general fund contribution to police and fire by about $1.9 million each year.

The proposed SAD is in response to a 2018 Michigan law intended to ensure local retiree health care and pension plans are adequately funded. Under the law, the township must ensure at least 40 percent of OPEB (other post-employment benefit) costs are funded within 30 years. Previously, municipalities were permitted to pay OPEB costs as they came due. The township has about $164 million in unfunded OPEB liabilities, with about $65 million needed to cover the funding gap.

In addition to the new funding requirement related to OPEB costs, Savoie reiterated that the township has a $3.7 to $3.8-million shortfall related to the township's defined benefit plan due to a lack of returns in a long-term fixed account with Prudential. The township has tried unsuccessfully to exit the  plan, which provides investment returns of about 2.9 percent. The account dates back to the early-1960s.

The proposed SAD would allow for the township's police and fire departments to pay for its share of the OPEB and defined benefit contributions on an annual basis.

Trustees Dave Buckley and Dani Walsh, who have opposed the proposed SAD, said at the meeting they were unaware that it would contribute to payments related to defined benefits, as the majority of discussion has related to OPEB liabilities, despite it being emphasized at several board meetings over the last 18 months which they both have attended.

"That should be explained," Buckley said.

Walsh also questioned whether results from a budget study conducted by Plante Moran that outlined more than $7 million in eliminations and revenue generating measures was being shared at the public meetings hosted by Savoie. Both Walsh and Buckley have said they opposed the SAD because none of those measures were implemented prior to approving ballot language for the proposed tax.

Savoie said the information is available online and discussed when the issue is raised. Those measures also have been included in Savoie's budget scenarios.

Included in the scenario is the elimination of 10 police officers and eight firefighter/paramedics through attrition; the elimination of an annual $1.4 million contribution from the general fund to the township's road department; the elimination of the animal welfare department; elimination of the township's funding of a school liaison officer; the transfer of police officers from joint task forces, including the county's Narcotics Enforcement Team, financial fraud, gang and surveillance task forces to the township's patrol division; elimination of electronic waste and hazardous waste collections; and maintenance on medians along Woodward, Telegraph and Square Lake roads. The township would also institute a one-percent administration fee for processing tax collections.

"Our number one goal isn't to advocate for this. We won't advocate," Savoie said of the meetings. "We want the information – the accurate information – to go out and we want the voters to decide what direction they want us to go in. They key comment is the 'correct' information," alluding to misinformation being trafficked on social media.

Savoie then showed a graph circulating on social media that shows the township to have the highest per-resident expenditures in the state. He said the graph fails to take into account comparable local cities. It also includes pass-through types of expenditures, such as Bloomfield Village public safety payments, that skew the results. A subsequent chart that includes those items places the township on the same spending level as other Oakland County communities, such as Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Troy.

"That's the correct information we want to get out there and let the voters decide," Savoie said.

Forums are scheduled at the Bloomfield Township Senior Center, 4315 Andover, on Monday, June 17, at 9:30 a.m. Forums are scheduled at the Bloomfield Township auditorium, including those on Thursday, June 27, at 7 p.m.; Wednesday, July 10, at 3 p.m.; and Wednesday, July 31, at 7 p.m.

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