Published August 26, 2014
Proposed public safety deal could help balance Eastpointe budget
By Kevin Bunch email@example.com
EASTPOINTE — A proposed agreement between Eastpointe and Hazel Park could pave the way for the struggling city to balance its budget without drastically slashing public safety.
The Eastpointe City Council approved its half of the deal to create the South Macomb Oakland Regional Services Authority Aug. 19 in a 4-1 vote. It currently is waiting for Hazel Park to take up the measure.
SMORSA would form a corporation to provide funding for fire and emergency rescue services within both cities through a new millage request, according to Eastpointe City Manager Steve Duchane. The measure passed by Eastpointe calls for a special election Feb. 24, 2015, to request 14 mills, which Duchane said would fully fund the Fire Department in his city.
This would free up additional funds to fully fund the Police Department without any deficit spending, he said.
“This is a big deal. It saves the city, basically,” Duchane said. “It’s about $342 per taxpayer in Eastpointe (annually). What the authority then does is collect the funds, and then it contracts with each city to provide services in one of the two areas — the areas being city boundaries.”
He added that it would be virtually a reinstatement of the taxes residents paid in 2008 for public safety, prior to the recession slashing the city’s tax base and drastically reducing its revenue. The city potentially could build up its emergency services.
The millage would need to be approved by a majority of voters who live in the corporation’s jurisdiction — so the majority between the two cities, Duchane said. This could mean the millage would pass if a majority of Eastpointe voters approved it and a majority of Hazel Park voters did not, as long as the total number of voters between the two approved it.
Duchane said under state law, the city is limited in how much it can ask voters for public safety millages. A measure passed by the state Senate would remove that limitation, but the state House of Representatives has not taken up the measure.
With the general fund dwindling, he said this was practically the last course of action open to the city to avoid bankruptcy without massive reductions in the city’s Police and Fire departments, which could render them ineffectual. Duchane said the city already has cut practically everything else it legally can.
A press release from Eastpointe said the cuts would include reducing police command officers from 11 to seven, the number of patrol officers from 26 to 21, reduction in police station hours, no overtime, no coverage if an officer is out, and the elimination of animal control.
On the Fire Department side, command officers would be reduced from six to five, no response on medical runs, no overtime, no coverage if someone is sick or out of town, and a possible transition to a paid-on-call Fire Department.
The cities would still have control over their labor contracts, staffing and level of service, but they potentially could use this to share equipment purchasing and inspection services, Duchane said. The main reason for the corporation is funding, he stressed, though each city’s fire departments could still keep and utilize any additional grant money they get themselves.
“This is a funding unit, a way to get around limitations imposed on us, and a way to help continue to try and advance services,” Councilman Bill Sweeney said.
Councilwoman Wendy Richardson said the city had checked with neighboring communities like St. Clair Shores, Roseville and Warren about partnering up before Hazel Park, but none of them were interested. Hazel Park matched up with Eastpointe’s problems and needs, so both cities decided to pursue it.
Councilman Ron LaForest said he voted no not because he disagreed with the proposal, but because he wanted to make sure everybody — both the public and the Fire Department personnel — was educated as to what this was about first.
“I’m in support of our police and fire; I just got stuck on that issue because there were other issues we have to take care of,” he said.
If the millage fails, the corporation could be dissolved or seek out other funding sources, Duchane said.