Bloomfield Township voters next March will be asked to renew a 10-year, general fund operating millage that generates about $5 million a year, under a resolution that was unanimously approved on Monday, November 25, by the board of trustees.
Voters in 2010 approved a 10-year, 1.3-mill property tax to fund all general operations in the township through 2019. Trustees approved language asking voters in the March 10, 2020 special presidential primary election to approve a reduced millage rate of up to 1.2401 mills through 2029.
Specifically, the request to appear on the March 10 ballot will ask: "Shall the millage previously authorized by electors in 2010 authorizing the Charter Township of Bloomfield to levy up to 1.3 mills as reduced by requiring millage rollbacks to a levy of 1.2401 mills in 2019, be renewed at the reduced rate of 1.2401 for a period of ten (10) years, 2020-2029, after the millage expiration in 2019?
"The renewal millage shall continue to be used to support and fund the operations of the Charter Township of Bloomfield, including but not limited to, Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services, Department of Public Works and all other general operations of the Charter Township of Bloomfield. Approval of this proposal would permit a tax levy of up to $1.2401 per $1,000 of taxable value on all taxable property in the Charter Township of Bloomfield as reduced by required millage rollbacks. It is estimated that this proposal would result in the authorization to collect $5,100,000 in the first year if approved and levied."
The request comes less than a year after voters in August rejected a 15-year, 2.3-mill Special Assessment District (SAD) proposal that would have generated $9 million per year dedicated to public safety operations, including retiree benefits. Under the August proposal, the township would have been required to terminate the final year of the 10-year general fund millage, resulting in a net tax increase of 1.05 mills. Voters in August rejected the SAD proposal with 62.2 percent of primary voters against it and 37.8 percent in favor.
The rejected SAD would have provided a partial funding stream to cover about $164 million in unfunded liabilities related to other post-employee benefits (OPEB) over the next 30 years. Under a 2018 state law, municipalities must fund at least 40 percent of OPEB liabilities, which were previously permitted to be paid as costs came due each year.
Although the renewal language approved by the board on Monday doesn't represent an increase from the township's current property tax rate, several residents who spoke at the meeting mischaracterized the renewal as a "tax increase."
Bloomfield Township resident Jenny Greenwell said she opposes the renewal because turnout will be low at the special election, which serves as the presidential primary for both political parties.
"Recently, the Oakland County Board of Commission has voted to put a tax on the March 2020 presidential primary ballot. Our elections in Michigan are regulated to dates in February, May, August or November. The March date is exceptional and therefore not the place to put a tax on homeowners... I think the fact that they (the Detroit Institute of Art) are coming back two years early for a renewal that they promised not to go after is reason enough to vote 'no,' beside the fact that they decided to put it on a presidential primary ballot,” Greenwell said. "In fact, any taxes that appear on that ballot deserve a resounding no vote from taxpayers."
Other residents mistakenly claimed that township officials also promised that they wouldn't request a renewal of the 2010 general fund operating millage. However, trustee David Buckley corrected that claim.
"I don't recall, and some have said that we promised we wouldn't bring this (millage) back up, and I don't recall that. I don't know why we would have," he said.
Buckley also noted that while he supports the millage renewal, he cautioned that voters may take issue with the timing of the ballot proposal.
"I want to lend caution to the board that the public sentiment from the special assessment election carried forward to a bias or partisan election that is going to be happening in March may skew the numbers... I get it, we want a bite at the apple, and I do not want to see this millage fail," he said.
Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said the choice to utilize the March election for the renewal proposal allows the township a second try in August if it fails to get support.
"I prefer to wait until August, but if it were to fail in August and that's the only time we did it, we could not levy that millage on December 1," he said. "We would have to go back to the November election, and even if it passed then, we could not levy it. So, it's imperative that there is a backup plan.
"I'm like you, I hope that it would pass. I hope that the rhetoric out there that this is a new tax would go away because it's not a new tax. It is a renewal. But the rhetoric never went away that the SAD was a $9 million tax, when in fact it was a $4.1 million. As I said earlier, 'if people say things enough times, other people are going to believe it.' I would hope collectively as a board that we can all get behind it and go forward."
Trustees voted 7-0 to put the millage on the March ballot.