Bloomfield Township public safety administrators on Monday, September 23, presented plans to the board of trustees for restructuring some police and fire operations, as more than a dozen positions are expected to remain unfilled in the face of budget cuts related to retiree benefits mandates.
"I appreciate the opportunity to come up here and speak to you about the restructuring of the police department and our strategy moving forward after the SAD election," said Bloomfield Township Police Chief Phil Langmeyer. "Our mission statement is: 'To preserve the peace and protect our community with fairness, integrity, pride and respect.' I think we do that. That is what we do every day... and we will continue to do that, even with the restructuring plan that we have."
Bloomfield Township voters on August 6 rejected a proposed 2.3-mill special assessment district (SAD) dedicated to police and fire operations. The proposed tax would have provided a long-term funding source for a nearly $64-million shortfall in other post employment benefits (OPEB) obligations that must be paid in advance, under state law that went into effect in 2018. The township is carrying about $165 million in total OPEB liabilities. Previously, the township paid annual OPEB costs as they came due. Under the new law, the township must pre-fund at least 40 percent of those liabilities.
Faced with implementing sweeping budget cuts or increasing revenue, the township's governing body approved a special August 6 election to place the option before voters — with trustees Dave Buckley and Dani Walsh opposing the ballot proposal. Budget cuts, several which were identified last year by financial advisors Plante Moran, are now being implemented.
In terms of staffing, which makes up the largest portion of the township's overall expenditures, Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said a hiring freeze implemented in 2018 has left the municipality with 14 fewer employees, including three police officers and four firefighters. As additional public safety positions will be left vacant in the future as employees leave or retire. Forced layoffs haven't been proposed.
"We have not cut anybody, we are just restructuring the police department and moving some people around," chief Langmeyer said on Monday.
Langmeyer compared the police department's 2008 service and staffing numbers to 2018 figures, prior to discussing restructuring plans.
"It's a 10-year snapshot of the department, but it's (2008) is also the last time we were at our fully budgeted strength of 70 officers," Langmeyer said. "When I was hired in here in the 1990s, were were budgeted for 70 officers. We are no longer there. We haven't been there since 2008."
Citing data from the department's annual reports, Langmeyer said the department went from 70 sworn officers and 24 civilian employees in 2018 to 64 sworn officers and 18 civilian employees in 2018, with 63 current sworn officers. Meanwhile, he said calls for service have increased from just more than 21,000 in 2008 to nearly 32,000 in 2018. As a result, he said response times have increased from an an average of just over four minutes to about seven minutes. In 2019, the average response time was 7 minutes and 49 seconds.
"That's a lot of calls for an officer to handle. The problem that we run into now is that these folks are busy," he said. "They don't have time for crime prevention, they don't have time for community service. ... because they are going from call to call."
Langmeyer said the department has and will cut back on crime prevention duties, such as patrolling local subdivisions, home and business checks and other preventative measures.
"We are becoming more of a crime response organization, not a crime prevention organization," he said.
Langmeyer said as the department continues to incur staffing losses, sworn officers will be shifted to bolster the patrol division. The first shift will include eliminating the department's traffic investigation unit and moving four of those officers to road patrols. Traffic officers, who are responsible for crash investigations and control measures.
Future shifts will be implemented as retirements occur. Langmeyer said the officer assigned to the FBI's violent gang task force and an officer with the FBI's identity theft task force, both of which grant the department access to federal resources, would be called back. An officer assigned a special investigations unit headed by the Troy Police Department, would also be recalled, as well as the officer assigned to the Oakland County Sheriff's Narcotics Enforcement Team.
"You think drug crimes aren't a big deal here," Langmeyer said. "Folks, the opioid epidemic hits everywhere. It's a national problem. They are focused on opioids now — they don't have anything to do with marijuana — and the new-coming problem is meth amphetamine. Opioids are dwindling, and meth is vaulting into Oakland County with strength."
Without replacing officers, Langmeyer said he expects sworn-officer levels to reach 58, under the current budgetary restraints.
Additionally, he said the department may have to cut some public service programs or begin charging more for participation. Those programs include women's self defense training, concealed carry licensing training, security seminars for businesses and places of worship, the Friends in Blue program and Honor Flight program, which works with local veterans.
Bloomfield Township Fire Chief Mike Morin said the fire department is currently staffed at 60 personnel, down four positions from its full staffing. Morin said he anticipates two additional staff eliminations, under the current budget restrictions. Current plans are to reduce staff at Fire Station number 4, resulting in one less fire apparatus available to respond to calls for service. The future elimination of two more staff could result in fewer staff at another fire station, ultimately increasing response times.
"If we drop eight more guys, we are going to be closing a station. There's no doubt about that," Morin said.
Additionally, Morin said the department is having trouble recruiting and retaining firefighters, as staff has left in recent years to work for competing departments able to offer higher wages and benefits.
"If you do these cuts on the backs of employees, it's going to get worse," he said. "That's the only way to solve a $3 million problem. It's not staff vehicles or the truck that I don't buy. It's the people that effect your bottom line."