2018-04-12 / Front Page

Gaines Twp. board plans to discuss police millage

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com

GAINES TOWNSHIP – Despite some concerns, the Gaines Township Board of Trustees will have two special meetings this month to inform voters about an upcoming police millage.

With the current 0.5-mil levy expiring in December, the board is considering options for continued funding of the police department.

“At the very least, we need to renew the current millage,” said Supervisor Paul Fortino. “If the renewal fails, we’re talking about some pretty drastic cuts. The millage doesn’t even cover half of (the police budget). It’s a difficult situation.”

At 0.5 mills, Gaines Township property owners pay 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value (roughly half the true cash value). That generates about $84,000 every year.

The annual police budget, however, is around $185,000. That pays for a full-time chief, plus two patrol officers, a detective and a secretary, all of whom work part time, and all other necessities that go along with operating a police department.

What the millage doesn’t cover, the township pays for out of the general fund. Officials say they could use that $100,000 on other things, such as roads.

So far, the township board has made no decision regarding how they will proceed. They could ask for a renewal and an additional millage in separate ballot questions, or pose a single request for a renewal or some amount greater than 0.5 mils, or seek a flat rate assessed against all improved properties within the township.

The township also has the authority impose a special assessment on all real estate, without voter approval, to fund necessary improvements that benefit property owners.

Fortino said elected officials have not discussed the option of a special assessment.

“I’m personally not pushing that option,” he said. “I’d prefer it not be that way.”

Voters will have two opportunities to learn more about the millage at townhall meetings scheduled for 7 p.m. April 17 and 30 at the township hall.

“We need a townhall so people can understand what we’re up against,” said Trustee Lee Purdy. “There’s information the general public needs to understand.”

“I think a special meeting to bring everything to the forefront is a good idea,” added Trustee Matt Moros. “Get it all out there, what it all entails.”

But Fortino is concerned that a public forum will turn into a “long, lengthy discussion of Metro versus Gaines.”

Last year, officers from the Metro Police Authority and Gaines Township Police Department were granted authority in both jurisdictions.

The cross swearing-in left some residents wondering whether the township board was taking the first steps toward merging with the authority, or dissolving the local department and purchasing services from Metro.

Some township officials have said they oppose a merger or other change that would cause the township to lose its own police force.

Township police Chief Mark Schmitzer said the immediate problem boils down to dollars and cents.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s us or Metro,” he said. “What matters is whether we can fund any of it at all. We can’t fund (a police department) on half a mil. We need to honestly tell (the voters) that these are the dollars and we are sorely lacking here. They need to know just what the figures are. We need to lay the cards out there.”

While Fortino agreed that the public must be informed, “a dollar-by-dollar debate … is not productive in solving our issue,” he said.

Moros countered that, if that’s what it takes, he’s in for the long haul.

“If it’s a three-hour meeting talking everything through, then it’s a three-hour meeting,” he said.

The township board has until May 15 to submit ballot language for the Aug. 7 primary election. If the millage fails, the board can ask again in the Nov. 6 general election.

The last time voters weighed in on the police millage was in November 2013. At that time, fewer than 20 percent of the 5,200 registered voters showed up at the polls, and the renewal squeaked by with a final tally of 547-546.

In November, township voters soundly rejected two millage requests for the fire department: a 1.25-mil increase for operations and building improvements, and a 0.75-mil increase for capital equipment replacements. A little more than 20 percent of voters cast ballots. Proposal 1 was defeated by a vote of 835-402; Proposal 2 fell 790-416.

This year, the township isn’t the only entity that could ask voters for more money. The Swartz Creek Community Schools Board of Education is considering a 3.95-mil request for safety and security upgrades and other facilities improvements. The school board was expected to vote Wednesday on whether to put the question on the November ballot. Results of the board’s decision were not available at press time.

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