Revenue losses may force major changes in Raisin Twp. police, fire departments
Raisin Township trustees began discussions on Monday, Feb. 11, that could bring major changes to its police and fire departments in the future unless alternative sources of revenue can be found. The township not only faces some tough decisions regarding how to fund badly needed road reconstruction projects, but how to maintain essential services with the pending loss of personal property revenues.
Raisin Township Supervisor Jay Cavanaugh said that Lenawee County Equalization Director Marty Marshall provided a breakdown of what the township will lose in personal property tax for 2014/15 at $1 million in taxable value, which is $3,454.90 that first year. He said $3,000 is the township’s portion and $454.90 is the Public Safety portion.
For the 2016/17 budget year, the taxable value loss is estimated to jump up to $25.5 million, and the township will lose $88,099.95, with the township portion being $76,500 and the Public Safety portion at $11,599.95.
“This is just the beginning of a discussion that will be taking place over the next several months,” said Cavanaugh. “I believe there are some considerations and evaluations that have to be made, and tonight we’re speaking specifically about the fire and police departments.” He added that he’d been having ongoing discussions with both Fire Chief Richard Renard and Police Chief Scott Lambka, and the departments have already been running lean. Both chiefs were on hand with draft proposals of what might be done in the future to save in costs.
Renard offered the board members an overview of the fire department’s history, including how firefighters were once full-time and the department operated its own ambulance facility. Firefighters are now paid-on-call, with 20 current members. The board previously authorized up to 40 but staffing with trained professionals has not been easy.
“There are other ways of increasing revenues, but additional levies are not popular,” said Renard. He said he and Lambka have identified statutory roles and responsibilities and how to keep things going efficiently and effectively if the departments were to be combined under one public safety umbrella. “How do we do that without cutting anymore services to the community?” he said. “My suggestion would be to eliminate a full-time chief to save money on staffing. We really can’t cut anymore than where we’re at today. I realize I’m writing my own termination. But we need to sit down and come together and see where we’re going with this for the protection of the citizens in the community. We need to continue investigating.” Renard said another possible alternative is to outsource, or contract with another fire department.
Scott Lambka said the task was not an easy one. “What we’re basically looking at is where can we cut or be more efficient when we’re already short of people getting the job done. The only place to look is at the top.” He said he geared his proposal specifically toward creating one public safety department, and noted that 55 departments in Michigan now have some form of public safety department.
“There could be some administrative consolidation with a public safety director running both departments and eliminate some duplication, but that also comes with a price and that’s what we’re going to have to determine through our discussions here.” He said there are full consolidation models where police and firefighters are cross-trained completely, but said that’s expensive to achieve, estimating approximately $2 million to get everyone cross-trained properly.
“I don’t really see it going that direction, but there could be partial consolidation with a hybrid model,” Lambka said. He added that the police department’s reserve program that was previously in place was pretty well received, and suggested firefighters could be trained as reserve officers for occasions where sworn officers were not required, and police officers could receive firefighter training.
Trustee Larry Crittenden said he’s been very concerned about budget shortfalls and suggested another possibility.
“I suggest we throw in the fact that we may have to increase our millage by a mill to cover our shortfall and we’d still have some additional monies for roads,” Crittenden said. “I don’t like having to pay more taxes than anybody but the fact is the roads in the township are literally falling apart. I’ll just throw that into the mix that this is something we may have to consider.” The township currently levies just over 3 mills and Crittenden said it raises approximately $780,000, with one mill raising approximately $227,737.
“I don’t want to vote on that tonight, but I think we have to think about it very strongly,” he said.
“These are very difficult conversations,” said Cavanaugh. “I do feel I need to say that Chief Renard and Chief Lambka have demonstrated the utmost professionalism during this difficult evaluation. We’ll be continuing this discussion, and we could end up where we are right now, or moving in a different direction. Maybe it could be some form of public safety where there’s a director and an assistant director. There are many ways we might do this. What’s ultimately important is to maintain services for the Raisin Township residents. This is going to be a very detailed and long process and we’re all going to have a lot of questions.”