The rejection of a 2.3-mill special assessment district (SAD) by Bloomfield Township voters that would have generated about $9 million per year for the next 15 years, designed to cover a shortfall in retiree benefits liabilities related to police and fire, means the board of trustees will need to make significant cuts to close an annual funding gap estimated to be between $5 million and $7 million.
Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said at a Monday, August 12, board of trustees meeting that he'll be meeting with department heads and others in the upcoming weeks to formulate a plan to make cuts to the township's budget, and the best way to minimize the impact of those cuts. A full plan of proposed cuts should be prepared and ready to discuss with the board by August 26.
While that plan is still in the works, prior to the election Savoie provided a preview of what to expect should the SAD fail to pass. Among those projections included the loss of about 10 police officers and eight firefighters; the elimination of an annual $1.4 million contribution to the township's road department from the general fund; elimination of the animal welfare department; elimination of the township's funding of a school liaison officer; the transfer of police officers to area joint task forces; elimination of electronic waste and household hazardous waste collections; and the institution of a one-percent administration fee for processing property tax collections.
Savoie already confirmed upcoming waste collections wouldn't go forward. Further, he said police and fire positions would be eliminated through attrition, meaning those cuts will take place over time by eliminating some personnel positions after they become vacant.
Opponents of the SAD were quick to claim that cuts to police and fire wouldn't happen if the proposed tax failed. They also claimed, and continue to claim today, that the current funding shortfall came about by mismanagement by Savoie and the current administration. Both those claims are demonstrably false.
First, in terms of police and fire positions, residents should be aware the township already has three vacant police officer and four open firefighter positions that won't be filled. Additional positions aren't likely to be filled as they become vacant.
In terms of management, consider a recent Standard & Poor's Global Ratings assessment that upgraded the township's credit rating to AAA, despite the township's existing financial liability and rejection of the proposed SAD. The rating upgrade was based in part on the township's "strong management." Other factors included a strong economy, adequate budgetary performance, strong budgetary flexibility and other factors. Moody's subsequently downgraded the township's credit rating to AA, following the August 6 election due to the amount of unfunded liability – but not for poor management.
The S&P credit rating noted that the township has a strong history of adjusting its budget when necessary, and as a result, expects the township to maintain reserves and cash on hand at levels they considered very strong.
Whatever budget cuts come forward, the majority of slashes to existing services aren't likely to take place until April of 2020, when the township's current budget and fiscal year expires. Gaps in the current budget were filled by using the township's existing fund balance.
We also feel confident the current township board and administration is capable of making the appropriate cuts to meet funding challenges into the future, while still maintaining an adequate fund balance. While services to residents will undoubtedly be cut, they will come at the direction of voters who rejected the proposed SAD and those that led them down that path.
Lastly, while the idea of studying the role and function of the administrative positions in the township – supervisor, treasurer, clerk – deserves merit – as has been casually discussed in the past – a recent resolution put forth to hire a township superintendent to oversee Savoie and strip him of all but ceremonial duties was done prematurely. By doing so, it's clear those pushing for immediate change are more interested in politics than responsible and measured leadership.
We, for one, believe the current board and administration are fully capable of putting those politics aside and making the tough decisions necessary based on what is best for township residents.