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.