12-21-2017 Coloma Township Board to ask for additional millage for police department; will also look

Coloma Township Board to ask for additional millage for police department; will also look at $300.000 annual contract with City

By Annette Christie

After taking two months to think it over, the Coloma Township Board decided to ask voters for their support of an additional 2-mil public safety millage.  The township currently has one millage of 4.75 for public safety that expires in 2020.

Police Chief Jason Roe first presented a very detailed and thought out public safety millage proposal for the Coloma Township Board at their October meeting.

The Coloma Township Police Department was founded in 1969 and was initially a part-time department until the mid-70s when it became a full service 24/7 department.  The cost of providing the police services was funded through the general fund until 1979 when due to public outcry, a special police millage was approved. The first police millage passed by a nearly two-to-one margin.

In 1992, a millage increase was necessary.  Initially, it was not approved by voters.  Due to public response, it was placed on a second ballot and then passed.

The separate police and fire millages have joined into a public safety millage with the police department receiving 83% of it. The two departments have operated through the millage funds coupled with general fund money.

The public has supported the public safety millage at the polls every four years since 1992.

Other factors have affected the incoming funds of both the general fund and the millage funds; the general funds due to the decreased revenue sharing and the millage funds because of decreased taxable values which the millage rate is based on.

While the township and the police department has made concessions such as consolidating positions and pay freezes for the police department they will not be able to sustain.  Based on budget projections, the projected revenues will not meet the projected expenses by the 2018/2019 budget year under the current funding model in place.

Roe recommended a proposed millage increase that would make both the police and the fire departments sustainable and would provide a long-term solution. Roe states, “The data shows that due to several factors, most of which are out of township and police department control, it will be necessary to seek additional millage funding to sustain the current Coloma Township Police Department professional service levels.” Roe said that the additional millage funding will allow the police and fire departments to continue to at least the next 30 years.

While the board seemed in support of asking voters for the additional millage, how much to ask for and what the City of Coloma pays kept popping up.  The City of Coloma pays $300,000 annually for police services coverage in their area, or 1/3 of the police department budget.  Roe estimates that 30 – 40% of their calls are in the city, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean they spend 30-40% of their time in the city.

Trustee Bryan Duffield stated, “If we don’t do something we will lose our police department,” with Roe adding, “in a slow, painful death.”  While Duffield was in support of the 1.5-increase, he questioned whether it was high enough.  “It is the minimum if you ask my opinion,” Roe answered.

Trustee Matt Moser stated, “We need to have a contract with the city that reflects that they are paying their fair share.”  Trustee Rob Harper pointed out, “Whether they pay or not, we need an increase.”  Supervisor Ken Parrigin added, “Things were different when we took it over, the city doesn’t have any extra money, maybe they need to look at a police millage.”

Roe reminded the board that having a full-time police department helps everybody and while it may assist the city residents, it also is beneficial to all of northern Berrien County as the various police departments are back up to each other, including those that come into the township to help when needed.

The board voted to put the issue on the ballot in August.

Part of the millage discussion turned to the township’s unfunded liability that due to federal regulations is now detailed in the annual audit. While the union police employees’ retirement is funded, the non-union employees’ retirement is only funded at approximately 50%.

The township put a committee in place to look at the options.  Their legal counsel provided a memo to the township board which included options such as changing the plan or changing the contribution.  “I’m not suggesting that we take anything from anyone that has earned it, but if we don’t change the plan, if we do nothing, the unfunded liability will only get worse,” Moser said.

Moser recommended that the township have a study completed that would detail their options and was in favor of more than one study if it gave them those choices.  The board voted to give authorization to the committee to move forward and report back to the board.

NEW HARTFORD MAYOR RICK HALL takes the oath of office, sworn in by City Clerk RoxAnn Isbrecht to begin City Commission proceedings Mon-day, December 18. A full gal-lery was on hand to wish the veteran Commissioner and for-mer Mayor Pro Tem well on his first night in the seat of Mayor. Commissioner John Miller was unanimously selected as the new Mayor Pro Tem, while Immediate Past Mayor Ted Johnson was also on hand to thank the City for the privilege of over three decades in office and to hand Mayor Rick his key to City Hall; what Johnson re-ferred to as the “real key to the city.” (TCR photo by Jon Bisnett)


Mayor Rick Hall sets goals for City of Hartford

By Jon Bisnett

Monday December 18 marked a new era in Hartford City government as newly elected Mayor Rick Hall took the oath of office. Incumbent Commissioners Dennis Goss and Terry Tibbs were also sworn in alongside newly elected Commissioner Helen Sullivan.

Guests

 Terry Tibbs spoke as representative for Van Buren County Senior Services seeking a ¼-mil renewal on the August ballot, plus an additional 1/4-mil. The millage supports services throughout the county including meals and senior activities along with aids to seniors such as construction of ADA compliant ramps to private homes. Tibbs noted that 92% of their funding goes directly to the benefit of seniors with only an 8% cost of administration.

Communications

 City Hall will be closed December 25, 26, 29 and the 1st of January in observance of Christmas and the New Year holidays.

Mayor’s goals & comments

 Mayor Hall began his first formal meeting by assigning what he called “homework” for the commission who were tasked to bring any and all ideas to the January workshop to make improvements to the function of the city. He gave the example of the 7:30 meeting time… “Should we go with 7:00 instead? Now is the time to reevaluate our process.”

Additionally Hall wants to address absenteeism in a “Play for Pay” program whereby the commissioners vote to determine excused absences at any given meeting. An unexcused absence will deduct from the annual compensation paid to the commissioner in question.

Hall plans to work with the Police Department to develop an anti-drug program within the schools. Hall also plans on adding a Deputy Building Inspector, adding signs to alert motorists of the presence of horse drawn buggies, and to explore the possible locations of hitching posts on city owned parking lots. Additionally Hall would like to explore the clearing of trees along the I-94 exit ramps.

Police Report

 Chief Tressa Beltran presented a written report detailing activity of 720 duty hours with 20 foot patrol hours which included 120 complaints for the month of November, resulting in 11 arrests including four felonies.

The department is accepting cash and toy donations for the annual “Shop with a Cop” program benefiting underprivileged children.

Ordinance Officer Report

 A written report from Ordinance Officer Jim Coleman noted five property inspections for the month of November. Blight postings for the month totaled 23 violations resulting in 23 follow-ups.

Fire Report

 The Hartford Joint Fire Department responded to 29 calls in the month of November, including 23 rescue/ medical calls and three structure fires, with Assistant Chief Kevin McGrew reporting.

Ambulance Report

 Medic 1 Board Representative Pete Sinclair submitted a written report of 42 calls for the month of November with 19 being ambulance calls and 23 were wheelchair transports. No response times or Priority I/II call breakdown were provided.

Public Works

 Superintendent Dan Staunton was present to answer question on his written report noting standard maintenance tasks, the conclusion of fall leaf pickup and the installation of holiday decorations. The start of winter snow removal has officially begun with salt supplies in great shape thanks to a mild November.

Two water turn-offs took place with one new service turn-on. The city