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  • Kevin Elliott

Bloomfield Township to cut animal welfare, events

Efforts to trim back the annual budget in order to pay for unfunded employee benefits in Bloomfield Township will result in the township eliminating its animal welfare division, the municipality's annual open house, and recycling events focused on household hazardous waste, electronic waste and paper shredding by the end of the year.

The cuts, which were approved by the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees on Monday, August 26, are expected to provide a savings of about $280,000 annually, said township supervisor Leo Savoie.

"Those programs will be eliminated and we will not plan for them this year or future years," Savoie said.

The cuts were approved following the township's Tuesday, August 6, election in which voters rejected a 2.3-mill special assessment district (SAD) that would have been dedicated to public safety. The tax was put before voters after the township was advised by the state it would be responsible for funding at least 40 percent of the township's total liabilities related to other post employment benefits (OPEB). With about $165 million in total OPEB liabilities, the township will need to pay an extra $64 million into the OPEB trust fund over the next 30 years, in addition to annual costs that come due. Previous state law allowed municipalities to pay only annual costs and not pre-fund the trust.

The cuts are in line with feedback from the community outlined in a survey of residents conducted by the Glengariff Group. The survey found about 55.1 percent of respondents supporting the elimination of the animal welfare division. The survey also found support for eliminating some optional programs.

However, the board of trustees in March approved a $49.6 million budget that didn't include those cuts or others, preferring to wait until after the August 6 election.

In total, the board will need to balance a $4.2 million budget deficit this year, and a $3.65 million deficit in future years, Savoie said.

"This deficit budget that we put in place, planning on using reserves until we determined which way we were going to go, did not include any funds being contributed to the OPEB trust," Savoie said. "With a $2 million planned contribution into the trust, the budget deficit would have been $4.2 million. Included in this budget is a one-time large-expense item for the mandated replacement of fuel tanks for $550,000. This reduces the proposed deficit to $3.65 million moving forward.

"So how do we close the gap this year, and for future years?"

In addition to the cuts approved August 26, Savoie said the township's recent refinancing of its general pension obligation bonds will save the township about $370,000 each year. Revisions to the township's healthcare plans, which will be presented at a future meeting, are expected to save about $750,000 per year. Further, Savoie said he expects another $40,000 in cuts that he wasn't yet able to discuss on Monday because notifications had not been made to appropriate parties.

Savoie said additional cuts could be made in the police, fire and road departments.

"I'm going to have the heads of those departments make presentations to the board as to how we can operate as Bloomfield Township with lower personnel," he said. "The DPW (Department of Public Works) will do the same, and any impact from road funding will be presented, and how it will impact the community."

Savoie also talked about efforts already in place to provide savings, which include a hiring freeze on employees since 2018 which has left the township with about 14 total vacancies across the township, including three police officers, four firefighters, one position in the assessing department, one in IT, one in the motor pool, three in the road department and one in maintenance. Additional positions could be eliminated through attrition, he said.

Additionally, Savoie said cuts are possible to the township's gypsy moth program and by eliminating legal representation for the township's 5G installation.

"Both of these have long-term negative impacts to the community and should be discussed seriously by this board if we are going to go in that direction," he said.

Lastly, Savoie said the township will have a comprehensive compensation study done as they head into employee negotiations in the near future.

"My goal, as is everyone else's goal, is to keep Bloomfield Township best in class," he said. "Bloomfield Township has always delivered and will continue to deliver outstanding services to the residents. We have always been accountable for every dollar we spend, and we will continue to do so."

Savoie sought to retain some animal welfare services on a part-time basis, but was overruled by the board, which passed the preliminary cuts by a vote of 5-1, with Savoie voting no and trustee Neal Barnett absent.

Trustees Dave Buckley and Dani Walsh criticized some of the cuts discussed, but not the elimination of the programs approved on Monday.

"From my very thin estimation here, it looks like a lot on the backs of the residents, including the employee issues with attrition or not hiring. We have 14 open positions, but we haven't had an assessment of what the means to services," Buckley said. "It sounds like you're going to have the chiefs and the different heads of those departments speak to us about that and what that means, but ultimately, it seems to be cuts to services to residents. It seems somewhat penal in that the vote didn't go your way, so you seem ready to stick it to the residents. I'm not seeing anything in terms of shared sacrifice in terms of compensation, automobiles, benefits and things like that."

Walsh also said she had issues with some of the cuts discussed.

"It does appear that there's a penalty here, in that all that you mentioned seems to affect the citizens here, it doesn't effect the employees," Walsh said.

Walsh also questioned how the cuts were determined, and that trustees outside of the administration should have more input, as they aren't on the township's payroll and "have no skin in the game" or receive any "kickback," suggesting the treasurer, supervisor and clerk should have compensation cuts.

Savoie said he took issue with Walsh's categorizing of employee pay as a "kickback." Further, he said state law prohibits the board from cutting the pay of those positions. Savoie said additional cuts to employees could result in a massive loss of staff, and that it's prudent to wait until a comprehensive compensation study is completed.

"We are completely out of the realm of sacrifice unless we volunteer to do it on our own, and even then there are certain legal consequences for doing that," he said.

Walsh replied by bringing up the elimination of township issued vehicles – a recurring push by Walsh and Buckley to revoke vehicles used by Savoie, clerk Jan Roncelli and treasurer Brian Kepes.

"Dani, you may not know because she's a new trustee (three years), but Dave certainly knows because he's a longstanding trustee – you know because you defended the exact same vehicle that I'm driving for the past treasurer," Kepes said to Buckley. "You know that can't be reduced and that compensation can't be reduced. You might want to share that with the newest trustee.

"With regard to citizens having a seat at the table and having skin in the game, I've been a resident of the community for over 30 years now. I have been active in the township for 25 years. I have skin in the game. I live here, I raised my kids here. I'm not sure what other kind of skin in the game you need, but I have it – I pay taxes here. Hopefully everyone here pays taxes," Kepes said as he motioned to Walsh.

Kepes also took issue with Buckley's comments, reminding him that he had previously defended the township-issued vehicle for former treasurer Dan Devine, and that Devine's pay couldn't be cut in the past, under state law.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, these things can't be cut. And you know that," Kepes said to Buckley. "So to be saying that these things should be cut is just not recognizing the facts or ignoring the facts you were quoting a few years ago when you so adamantly defended a treasurer who wasn't in his office and wasn't doing the job. Your friend.

"It's insulting to the residents of the township that you are saying these things and are constantly bringing up things where on one hand you said one thing, and another year you're saying another thing... it's unfortunate. You've been here the longest and watched these issues grow and you haven't done anything for a long time. All of a sudden, you seem to have your eyes open. It's good."

Buckley, who took offense to the comments, said trustees are asking administration to make personal sacrifices – specifically turning in township issued vehicles – in order to keep jobs.

It has not been determined if turning in vehicles would actually save the township money, as mileage and other costs would need to be paid and reimbursed instead.

Savoie ended an ensuing back-and-forth by the board, steering the discussion back to the immediate cuts proposed for the animal welfare division, recycling events and open house event.

Bloomfield Township Police Chief Phil Langmeyer gave a brief presentation regarding the animal welfare division. He recommended closing the division on November 30, the day prior to the retirement of one of three employees in the division. Another employee had recently left the township. The division would stop taking new animals around November 15.

Langmeyer said residents would still have some services provided by Oakland County, but only regarding dogs and cats in a contained area. Removal of wild animals,such as dead deer, will need to be done by a private business at residents' expense.

Begrudgingly, trustees voted to close the division, with Savoie dissenting, as he preferred police department to continue limited services. Trustees also voted to halt the open house scheduled for October, as well as upcoming recycling events focused on household hazardous waste, electronic waste and paper shredding.

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