Bloomfield Township Public Works officials on Wednesday, October 16, presented more than $1.9 million in potential annual budget cuts to staff and services designed to allow the township to fund post employment benefits (OPEB) obligations that are required by state law.
Bloomfield Township voters on August 6 rejected a proposed 2.3-mil special assessment district (SAD) dedicated to police and fire operations that would provide a dedicated funding source for about two-thirds of OPEB and pension liabilities owed by the township.The township must fund about $64 million in OPEB liabilities over the next three decades under a new state law that requires municipalities prepay at least 40 percent of those costs. Township departments are now in the midst of presenting budget reduction proposals to help close the funding shortfall.
Bloomfield Township Public Works Director Tom Trice said while not all the potential cuts will have immediate or direct impacts on residents, the loss of staff and services will be felt across the township.
"We are already down five people, so everything takes longer to do," Trice said.
The proposed cuts are taken, in part, from a series of potential cuts identified in December of 2018 by the township's consulting firm Plante Moran, which presented $6.4 to $7.4 million in cuts and revenue generating measures to fund pensions and benefits. Those recommendations included a reduction of $1.4 million from the township's general fund to the road division.
Outside of the general fund contribution, the road division receives about $2.687 million annually from a .6837 road millage, and about $712,000 annually through an agreement with the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC), as well as about $150,000 in other revenues.
Moving forward, Trice said the road division would continue basic road surface work along local and subdivision roads, but would likely need to make cuts related to preservation and maintenance, as well as winter road maintenance, that could directly effect the public.
Potential cuts identified include:
• The elimination of all preservation maintenance and patch paving as currently done by contractors, which includes asphalt, concrete, cape sealing, spray patching and other outside contracted road maintenance service for an estimated savings of $650,000. This includes joint/crack sealing any new pavement, with $100,000 left in the account for emergency repairs. An additional $85,000 could be reduced by eliminating in-house preservation maintenance patch paving.
Trice said the elimination of the paving programs would reduce engineering costs with associated projects, bringing overall engineering costs in the township down by about $40,000. However, he said an additional $25,000 would need to be budgeted for pothole patching materials, as roads would deteriorate at a faster rate with the reduction in paving preservation projects.
Reductions in state highway mowing could provide an estimated reduction of up to $200,000, depending on the level of grounds and landscaping maintenance the township wants to retain. Trice said the township has already cut the number of mowings along state-owned roads from 23 a year ago to 14. Additionally, the township could lower costs by removing flower beds and township signs, such as the large brick monument sign on Telegraph at 14 Mile Road. The removal of such signs and flower beds, along with reduced mowings, could reduce costs by about $200,000 per year; however, Trice said, removal of the signs and beds would require about $60,000 for removal.
• Elimination of maintenance for private roads and roads maintained in adjacent areas of West Bloomfield will provide an estimated reduction of $60,000. The roads total about three miles of roads in the township and about three miles in West Bloomfield that the township has maintained since the 1970s because township residents drive on them to get to main roads. Those roads include Wabeek north of Lone Pine; all roads that come off of Wabeek in the area to the east; and roads between Middlebelt and Wabeek north of Long Lake. The roads will be turned back to RCOC and property owners for the private roads for all maintenance.
• Retention ponds in subdivisions that have been maintained by the township that haven't been deeded to the township would no longer be maintained, which will result in about $10,000 in estimated reductions.
• The elimination of several programs and events under the DPW will provide an estimated budget reduction of about $150,000. Those cuts, which have already been implemented, include a Household Hazardous Waste disposal event; document shredding; drug disposal and Clean Sweep, which are utilized by about 3,000 households each year, or roughly 20 percent of township residents.
• Storm damage cleanup and tree removal services. By agreement, this is a service that is to be provided by the RCOC. Elimination of the service will provide an estimated reduction of $100,000, dependent on weather.
• Snow plowing and ice control reductions, which includes staff reductions totaling about $258,000, totaling about $370,000. Costs associated with snow and ice control include staff and overtime, equipment costs and materials.
"We have discussed leaving one to two inches of snow on the roadway and taking care of it during regular hours, only reducing overtime and increasing liability exposure. Reducing our call out priorities as first responders to a shorter list or eliminating them altogether will reduce overtime and materials and increase liability exposure," Trice said. "We can look at alternative de-icing materials but there is a cost in getting that set up and to put into operations. We could also look at a four-inch rule of snow prior to sending out the equipment like many other cities do. This will reduce overtime and materials and increase liability exposure. This means that four inches of snow would accumulate before sending equipment out on overtime.
"During regular hours, we would maintain streets immediately as we do now, however, if four inches of snow hasn't accumulated by the end of the regular day, we will stop operations and resume them the next day on regular hours. This will reduce the cost, but depends on weather to put a budget number on it."
The reductions in winter maintenance include the elimination of three full-time labor position, two in roads and one in grounds. These positions typically clear parking lots at Township Hall and the Senior Center, then moves to clearing dead ends, cul-de-sacs and intersections in subdivisions.
"Without them, it will extend the hours needed to clear the streets, lots, sidewalks and puts more burden on the employees left to do the work," Trice said. "This creates a liability exposure around the campus as sidewalks and lots will be icy and snow covered more often and increase the liability exposure for slips, falls and injuries by residents and employees. There are also the staff required to fill in for plow route employees that are sick or on vacation."
Trice said unintended consequence in the cuts would be bus routes, which utilize local roads. "With the type of reductions proposed, this may not be an option and the collection points would be pushed to the main roads," he said. "Additional closing of schools due to weather and road conditions should be expected."
The motor pool calls for the reduction of one mechanic position, which is currently vacant and will remain so until a final determination is made on other service related reductions. This position would also eliminate one snow plow operator. The estimated budget reduction is $100,000.
Bloomfield Township DPW Superintendent Noah Mehalski said the biggest strain on the DPW and impact on the public would be felt on days where there are dual emergency situations, for instance, a water main break during a snow emergency. "It's not a matter of if it will happen, it's a matter of when," Trice said.
Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said the potential reductions will be part of an overall budget reduction strategy with action taken after all departments have presented options to the board. Trustees David Buckley and Dani Walsh, who both opposed the proposed SAD in August, were absent from the meeting.
"This community was sold a bill of goods, and we are dealing with it right now," Savoie said. "It's interesting that none of the 'No SAD' people are here cheering for what they have done. It's sobering."
Trustee Neal Barnett echoed Savoie's statements, noting that many of those who vocally opposed the SAD claimed the township wouldn't make cuts discussed at meetings prior to the election.
"It's very sad and it's very sobering ... it's unfortunate that they are cowards," Barnett said. "The people who go on to Nextdoor.com and spread lies, and they are misinformed and scare people who are also misinformed. This is what you get. You get cuts in a community that isn't going to be as safe... that's not scare tactics, that's reality, and the cowards aren't here."