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Township approves increased 2023-24 budget

By Kevin Elliott


The Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees on Monday, March 13, unanimously approved the township’s 2023-24 fiscal year budget, which includes about $26.3 million in general fund revenues, or an increase of about 5.8 percent from the previous fiscal year.


The fiscal year budget runs from July 1 to June 30, with the budget required to be approved by March 31 of each year.


Increased revenue to the township’s general fund follows a 7.2 percent increase in overall taxable value in the township, reaching an estimated $4.79 billion for the 2023-24 fiscal year. At the same time, the budget includes about $26.31 million in general fund expenditures, a decrease of about 5.5 percent from the previous year.


Bloomfield Township Director of Assessing Darrin Kraatz advised the board and the public the township would realize an increase in tax revenue, and is required to notify the public, under the state’s Truth in Taxation law.


“We are indeed going to be collecting more money this year than we did last year. There’s no doubt about it,” Kraatz said. “I’m estimating now at about 12.6 mills overall. That includes some of the things we collect here for library debt and those types of things.”


Kraatz said the township’s general operating millage, which is capped at 10 mills, is likely to be set at 9.85 mills. He said actual millages will be set prior to the December tax statements, with approval from the board of trustees later this year.


This year’s budget includes revenues from a 3.89 mill public safety millage approved in August by voters. The millage replaces two public safety millages totaling 3.2879 mills. The approved budget includes the addition of five positions at the police department, including two sergeants, two patrol officers and an animal welfare officer. Additions at the township’s fire department include an operations officer and three firefighters/EMS positions.


Bloomfield Township Finance Director Jason Theis said the budget includes bringing back 17 full-time positions across the township, some that have been vacant for many years. Other positions include two within the Water and Sewer Department; a Senior Services Recreation Coordinator; two positions in the assessing department; an elections specialist; a township engineer; and an ordinance officer. The approved budget also includes a contractual two percent increase to full-time wages.


Despite the approval of additional positions and increased wages, board members were urged to consider further measures to help attract and retain employees as inflation and competitive wages trend upward.


Bloomfield Township Treasurer Brian Kepes in January urged fellow board members to consider how the township could provide incentives to employees.


“My statutory responsibility as treasurer is to safeguard the assets of the community, and clearly one of the most significant assets is the township’s workforce,” Kepes said at a January 30 study session regarding the budget. “I think our residents and taxpayers expect Bloomfield to attain the highest return on its investments. Our workforce shows up on the financial statements as an expense, but interestingly not on the balance sheet as an asset. To derive the best long-term value qualitatively and financially from our workforce asset we need to continue to invest in it.”


Kepes at that time noted that since 2020, all township employees are covered by union contracts. Those contracts, he said, are primarily six-year labor agreements providing specific wage grades and an average 2.5 percent annual wage increase. However, many previous agreements included merit or longevity bonuses, or opportunity for wage increases within each pay grade. The process, he said, allowed the township to attract the best employees.


Considering recent economic and employment trends, as well as the length of the labor agreements, at six years, Kepes suggested the township lacks the ability to adapt to labor trends and attract and keep employees.


“We now need a mechanism or place-saver in this budget to provide for merit and/or STEP increases within the pay grades, and/or bonuses so we can continue to attract and retain the best employees,” Kepes said in January. “I’m really concerned that we have a six-year agreement and we really do not have the ability or mechanism, and haven’t discussed it. … I think we need something in this year’s budget so we don’t wait three more years until the new contract because by that time, I’m really fearful that we will not be able to retain some of our people in any way.”


The discussion in January was stifled, as the township’s attorney recommended discussing the issue in closed session, as it could relate to existing labor agreements and collective bargaining.


Township Supervisor Dani Walsh in January said there was a lack of agreement on the subject.


“I know when we did the millages, we definitely put out that we weren’t raising the millage to give raises, so this is a touchy subject which obviously there’s not 100 percent consensus,” Walsh said at the study session, adding several times that the issue wasn’t raised by employees.


On Monday, March 13, prior to approving the budget, the board met in closed session to “discuss negotiating a strategy of a collective bargaining agreement.” Walsh said prior to the closed session discussion, that it must come prior to the budget hearing, as it could impact the final figures being considered.


Upon exiting the closed session and considering the budget on Monday, Kepes expressed hesitation about approving the budget.


“I am concerned with the budget,” he said. “I have always been one that has approved the budget, but we have had some lengthy discussions about the budget and about some policy issues,” Kepes said. “I guess I’m very ambivalent towards approving something I think doesn’t include certain policies that I think are crucial to the longstanding health and strength of the township.”


Despite his reservations, Kepes said he had faith in the board to come together, rather than obstructing approval.


“I guess I’m quite frankly conflicted because I do have a desire to be supportive. I’m going to take a leap of faith in the board and support the budget,” he said. “My leap of faith is that this board, this year, is going to work and resolve in a way that demonstrates that the policy for this year is enacted. I understand it can’t be done in two weeks, or before March 31, so I’m going to trust, reluctantly, and support the board. I’m looking to each and every board member here to act on what we discussed, so the issues we discussed are reflected by the end of the year in the budget.


“I think we all know what I’m saying, and are working and looking to act in good faith.”


The board voted unanimously to approve the 2023-24 budget as presented. A full digital copy of the budget is available at https://charter_township-bloomfield-mi-budget-book.cleargov.com/.

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