After a discussion that lasted more than 90 minutes, the Royal Oak City Commission voted Monday to prepare ballot language for a five-year tax levy to support public safety at a maximum rate of 3.975 mils.
City Manager Don Johnson explained that after years of staff reductions and salary and benefit cuts, the city has reached a point where it has to make difficult decisions on how to finance the quantity and quality of services citizens say they need.
In the last eight years, the city has lost 97 positions or 26.5 percent of all full-time positions, he said.
The city manager said the city was "severely understaffed in several areas," but the most evident was in the Royal Oak Police Department, where according to a Police Operations Analysis report prepared by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), a nonprofit public safety consultant, the department is not sustainable in the long term with current organizational structure and level of staffing. The report recommended adding 19.5 positions.
A decade ago, the police department had 123 sworn officers. The current number in the 2011-12 budget is 69. At the Royal Oak Safe Neighborhoods Community Dialogue in June, Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue recommended the department have 78 sworn officers to continue to be successful.
Commissioner Peggy Goodwin, who helped orchestrate the safe neighborhood dialogue agreed with the the city manager's millage proposal, which not only adds police officers but also recommends adding two code enforcement officers, one cashier, an assistant city attorney and funding senior programs.
"I certainly know from recently campaigning in this city what people's priorities are from what they said to me and code enforcement was on the top of the list. Supporting seniors was on the top of the list. Crime prevention and having adequate police and public safety was at the top of the list." Goodwin said. "These are quality of life issues."
Commissioner Mike Fournier said the millage proposal was simply asking for basic services that a city should provide.
The millage is needed because property values have depreciated to the extent that the city can no longer sustain the types of services that residents say they want to have, said City Commissioner Jim Rasor.
"Our property values fell about 30 to 35 percent. Everybody got relief in their tax bill but now we have a government that we just simply can't afford," Rasor said.
The vote to support the millage was unanimous.
The next step is for City Attorney Dave Gillam to put together the ballot language to go before voters on Nov. 6.
If passed by voters, the proposed 3.975 mill increase would cost the average homeowner $268.82, according to Johnson.