Bloomfield Township voters nix public safety tax

August 7, 2019

Bloomfield Township voters on Tuesday, August 6, overwhelmingly rejected a 2.3-mill, 15-year dedicated tax for public safety that would have helped pay for unfunded liabilities related to retiree benefits.

Unofficial results listed Tuesday evening by the Oakland County Clerk's Election Division showed voters rejected the proposed special assessment district (SAD) by nearly 25 percent. Unofficial results show about 6,678 votes (62.2 percent) against the proposed tax, with about 4,058 votes (37.8 percent) voting to approve the special assessment district (SAD).

The proposed SAD would have generated about $9 million a year for the next 15 years. Approval also would have required the township to terminate the final year of a 10-year millage approved in 2010, resulting in a net tax increase of 1.05 mills.

One mill is equal to $1 per every $1,000 of a home's taxable value, which is generally half as much as a home's market value. For instance, the average taxable value in the township is $215,234 ($430,468 market value), meaning the average homeowner would have paid about $226 per year for the SAD.

Rejection of the proposed SAD likely means township administration will need to make significant cuts to services in order to close a $5 million to $7 million annual budget deficit related to unfunded liabilities related to other post-employment benefits (OPEB) and defined benefits contributions. Proponents of the SAD had hoped the new tax would provide a dedicated funding stream for funding about $65 million of $164 million in unfunded OPEB liabilities, or about 40 percent of total liabilities.

While the proposed SAD would have been dedicated to public safety operations, the main factor in its proposal was to meet state funding requirements that were put into place in 2018.

Under the law, the township must ensure at least 40 percent of OPEB are funded within 30 years. Previously, municipalities were permitted to pay OPEB costs as they came due. In addition to OPEB costs, the SAD would have allowed for the township's police and fire departments to pay for their share of the employee's defined benefit contributions on an annual basis.

With the tax plan being rejected by voters, township administration will need to look at cutting the existing budget to cover the added OPEB costs.

Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said those cuts will include cutting 10 police officers and eight firefighter positions through attrition, cutting about $1.4 million to $1.5 million from the township's road division, and other potential cuts.

Savoie and other trustees had said they refrained from making cuts in order to put the issue to a vote of the people. However, proponents of the proposed tax appear to have underestimated the opposition to the proposed tax.

Campaign finance records filed with the Oakland County Clerk's Office revealed those supporting the tax had outspent the opposition during the campaign. However, campaign contributions to the opponents suggested retirees and homemakers were among voters who rejected the tax.

Further, opponents taking to social media, particularly the social media platform "Nextdoor," also were able to garner support. While the township board of trustees had discussed the proposed tax for months, it wasn't until the issue gained a following on the social media platform that residents packed township hall in March to voice their concerns.

"We will do what we said we would do," Savoie said Tuesday evening after reviewing the election results. "No matter what happens, this will not be the defining moment of Bloomfield Township. We are all going to go to work in the morning and do our jobs for the people of Bloomfield Township. The board will tell us how they want to go forward, and the community has done that."

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