Royal Oak Public Safety Millage: Volunteers Gear Up

Royal Oak City Commission unanimously seeks public safety millage. Citizens group forms to campaign for its approval.

Royal Oak citizens have organized as the Friends of Royal Oak Public Safety to campaign for the success of a 3.975 mill property tax on the November ballot.

After years of belt-tightening, including pay reductions by union employees and an overall workforce reduction of 25 percent, the Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously on August 24 to seek the five-year property tax dedicated to restoring the levels of fire, police and emergency medical services.

The Friends committee, chaired by longtime civic leader Clyde Esbri, will hold a fundraising event at on Thursday, September 27 from 6:30-10 p.m. The $30 ticket includes appetizers donated by and the performance by comic Chris Porter. There will be a silent auction of items donated by local businesses. Tickets may be purchased at comedycastle.com.

The Friends will also host a town hall discussion on Wednesday, September 19 at 7 p.m. at , 506 E. 13 Mile Road in Royal Oak. City Mayor Jim Ellison will speak, joined by City Manager Don Johnson and police and fire department representatives.

Funds from the millage would accomplish the following:

  • Bring the number of sworn police officers to 79, a number established in an independent study to be the minimum for effective policing in the city of 57,236. The city currently has 66 officers, down from 103 10 years ago.
  • Continue to provide advanced life support emergency medical services, avoiding the possibility of a reduction to basic life support
  • Offset the spring, 2013 expiration of a $2.5 million federal fire grant.
  •  Maintain minimum fire department on-duty staffing of 14, keep three stations open and two ambulances operating.
  • Add an assistant city attorney
  • Restore two code enforcement officers

“We have to keep Royal Oak relevant,” Mayor Ellison said. “Property tax revenue and state revenue sharing have plummeted. We have an obligation to protect the value of our homes and businesses and the character of our community.”

The Friends can be reached through their website, RoyalOakYesOnA.com.

Infomation provided by Friends of Royal Oak Public Safety

Ronald Wolf September 19, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I witnessed how the minimum manning dispute ended up in Pontiac. While it is hard to find money that is not in the budget there has to be a way to whittle down the cost of public safety. Looking at abuse of promotions is one place to start. There needs to be minimum time of service instituted between promotions. GM and Chrysler are already doing this. As we are contractually bound we need to look at a seperate policy for new hires, a two tier system that will enable minimum manning to continue, Going below minimum manning is not only dangerous but it is marginally effective as overtime is increased per firefighter.
Ronald Wolf September 19, 2012 at 05:19 PM
In a smaller venue this is possible. In a city, even one as small as Royal Oak there can be a problem to ask one Chief to manage both fire and police, especially with the complicated technology and required training now found in both professions. Now possibly payroll, overtime, benefit, and promotion policies, the every day nut and bolt accounting could be consolidated.
L. Browning September 19, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Why hasn't the city commision hade a fruitful public discussion on a public safety department? They skipped right over it during the budget discussions. As for the charter amendment that the citizens passed on the minumum staffing in the fire department, the city isn't following the charter. It passed. The city ignores it. Personally, I didn't vote for it. But it becomes a matter of trust with the city, when they pick and chose when to follow the charter. That concerns me.
Ronald Wolf September 19, 2012 at 05:46 PM
The professional organization hired came up with one suggestion. The elimination of advanced life support that while substantial and statistically supported may not help that one father with a heart attack who could have benefitted. In Detroit where they have trouble providing even basic transport I could see ALS as expendable. It would be a shame in RO with a higher median income than Detroit, and so many restaurants where medical emergencies are not that uncommon to lose this albeit expensive but life saving benefit. Discussion I am afraid could only result in taking the "statistically" sound advice to eleminate advanced life support.
Ronald Wolf September 19, 2012 at 06:04 PM
If this is true Rick this does need to be reconsidered. I can only assume that the ROFD whom I support as special in what they do came up with substantial concessions touted by the mayor as major.. My question is why were these concessions not enough? My problem is centered with the close alliance of the commission and the DDA where solutions that do exist (as in Birmingham) to obtain more from our "suffering no pain" downtown are not considered.
Ronald Wolf September 19, 2012 at 06:21 PM
L.Browning, your last sentence when I say it is considered slanderous and inflamatory by some, so this time I am glad it was not me. You are so correct. This city needs a charter with teeth. I would suggest a city manager acting as a hands on meeting manager with a vote. Our mayor only used for mediation between the commission and the city manager. Presently even a basic ethics ordinance is not sacrosanct.
Rick Karlowski September 19, 2012 at 06:37 PM
The ROFD Org Chart from the last budget presentation has - A Chief An Assistant Chief 3 Captains 6 Lieutenants 9 Sergeants 33 Fireman That is 18 supervisory positions for 33 fireman. I would say that is just a bit top heavy. Not to mention the retirement cost implications for all those sergeant, lieutenant, and captain positions.
Ronald Wolf September 19, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Ted Ronan, on the DDA paying for more officers I was informed by either our mayor, or city manager that they cannot be made to support more under some regulation in our charter, or from the state. Unless I was given misinformation. I liked Debbie Campbell's suggestion on looking at how Birmingham manages their downtown bringing in an additional one and a half million to cover public safety.
Rick Karlowski September 19, 2012 at 07:03 PM
I would like to see the data on this supposed high training cost. A number of cities have gone to Public Safety Departments with good results and overall savings. Why ignore the option that has such a long term savings potential. Any cross-training costs for current employees (new ones would have to have the required skills) are one time costs. The savings are permanent, not to mention the affect on retirement costs.
Rick Karlowski September 19, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Threre are Public Safety Departments in Berkley, The Grosse Points, Huntington Woods, and Kalamazoo, to name but a few. The statement that it is unmanagable is not founded in reality.
Ted September 19, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Ted Ronan, you need to check your figures. 57,000 x 1.17 does not equal 48 - 49 firemen. It actually is between 66 - 67. Royal Oak has been well below this number since the minimum staffing amendment to the charter was passed.
Ted September 20, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Again, incorrect. The fire union members and family members collected the signatures to put on the ballot. If it was citizen lead, who was the citizen(s)?
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 01:29 AM
You correct Rick, the Grosse Pointes are comparable to Royal Oak so I would ask our mayor, or city manager to investigate how it is working there. I reitterate that due to newer technologies being introduced in both professions I believe it would be difficult for a public safety police/fire person to maintain expertise in each profession. eg When I go to my gastro doc I do not expect him to answer my cardiology concerns. I wouldn't ask a tire shop about a transmission concern either. Get my drift. As far as accounting and other other day to day business concerns I could see that coming under a single management. In any case it a bares investigation and is probably more important to RO than running out to look at their Kroger, which was a good idea in my opinion. If Debbie Campbell is correct about a savings of 20% we are probably looking at about a million dollars between both departments,
Ted September 20, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Ted, at the time the minimum staffing initaive took place there was approximately 60 or so fire personal. Approximately 80%+ of those firemen lived outside of the city. If you check today (only a few years later, more than 80% of firemen live outside of Royal Oak. With your figure of 30 firemen living within Royal Oak would represent about 50% of the department. Royal Oak hasn't seen firemen residency of 50% for decades.
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 02:20 AM
My advice, boycott the pass the milage fundraisers subsidized by downtown bars but vote and pass the milage. There will be another day to fight. Our police chief is a good guy, he knows that it is harder to climb out of a hole than to fall in one. Incidentally we do need a full time prosecutor to process the additional cases the additional police will bring in. That is also public safety.
Rick Karlowski September 20, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Wow, Ron, you mean, like, really ask some cities that actually did convert to a public safety department how it was done and how much it cost, and not assume some cost or just reject the idea? Interesting concept.
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Despite our commission going hat in hand to the DDA for funding of the milage drive I still reluctantlly support it based on comparison to Oak Park's twice as large milage with no downtown, no liquor licenses, and stores closed and boarded. This is despite the joke of tonites town meeting where though it was informative residents were lectured to and could not participate during the presentation. In other words business as usual. Despite the arrogance, the lack of communication even on the part of Bill Shaw over the topic of advanced life support this milage must MUST pass to prevent a domino effect affecting downtown, in turn affecting public safety, in turn affecting property values, schools, and last but not least crime which is one genie we do not want to let out of the bottle. Hopefully all the new homes in construction who do not get twelve year tax abatements from our generous commissioners will arrive to the rescue just like the calvary. To not support is plain stupid and this is despite my dislike for the lobbying of downtown bars to support it for their benefit. Just because they win this battle it does not mean they won the war. AB and E lit our fuse demontrating how our general fund is vulnerable to abuse. I despise those manipulating bars who do not contribute to parks, schools, or neighborhood streets but boy do they know how to grease our commission. Its up to you to difuse the influence of special interests by demanding total transparency.
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 03:28 AM
I caught one being passed at the tail end to the meeting before last, It may have been deserved but it is a luxury you subsidize. I used to see seven year abatements given in West Bloomfield like candy, then I saw one after another of twelve year abatements given in Pontiac just before the whole city capsized. Just trying to raise the lantern to warn of the oncoming train Ted. Hate to watch those trainwrecks.
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Rick remember when we were kids we used to wet our forefinger and scratch an invisable score one in the air. I give you my permission Rick. I also am a stauch proponent of not re-inventing the wheel. Debbie Campbell also made an interesting discovery on how Birmingham was able to squeeze an additional million and a half from their CBD that is also worth investigating. Instead of playing one ups manship on each other how about exchanging ideas and being flexible? Opinions are never facts, The Patch gives us all an equal opportunity to exchange knowledge, ideas, express our opinions, and ask questions,
Gary MacDonald September 20, 2012 at 03:58 AM
In my opinion, even one is too many. It's corperate welfare. Royal Oak has several corperate tax abatements on the books. Off the top of my head, the city has granted past abatements for Flex-N-Gate at Normandy and Coolidge, and Formtech on 14 Mile Road. The companies may have changed names, but the abatements transferred. There are others.
Laura Harrison September 20, 2012 at 03:58 AM
My brain may be a little fuzzy, but Royal Oak tried a Public Safety about 25+ years ago. Bill Baldridge was City Manager and the Public Safety Director was John Ball. There was still a fire chief and a police chief. The firemen fought the fires and the police officers policed. I know there was no ALS. But I don't remember if there were assistants, captains, etc and how many of each.
Gary MacDonald September 20, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Hello Commissioner Harrison, It's Gary MacDonald. You are correct, John Ball was a Public Safety Director, but inexplicably, the city still had a police chief and a fire chief, and seperate police and fire departments. Frankly, the city didn't function like a traditional public safety department. It was more similiar to what we have now, with an additional high paid administrator. Another "chief" to add to the top heavy administration in those days.
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 04:08 AM
I am not a big fan of Don Johnson as you know. However his presentation tonite was superb and convinced me this milage is not just a beginning of an avalanche. His pie charts and bar graphs told the story. For instance the projected costs of our fire and police combined far exceed all we have in our general fund which is slightly under 22% of our total budget, I now agree with Rick and Ted that all options are on the table, I just would like to see ALS left alone because it can save a life someday.
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 04:29 AM
So history repeats itself.
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 04:51 AM
Ted your figures put Debbie's projected savings in a whole new light. My guess was between one and two million, your figures project a savings of four and a half million if both departments are consolidated. That makes the half mil cross training costs chump change.That is if it all that simple as pension and health care costs could drown even those savings in the next five to ten years.
Debbie Campbell September 20, 2012 at 10:33 AM
Mr. Ronan—concerning the cost of cross-training to create a Public Safety Department- I believe your number of 130 employees that would need to be trained is high—As Rick Karlowski points out the Fire Dept is extremely heavy on the admin end—No doubt some of those cost heavy positions could be whittled down if departments were combined—in addition to the 20% savings-- Look at the huge over-all savings that would create in the long run…pension costs etc… I’d support a millage to cover the cost of combining Departments and cross-training— I can’t support this millage to keep the “business as usual” BEAST alive-- It’s not sustainable and does nothing to fix the root problem--It’s simply a bandaid that has residents paying for extra security for more bars and festivals.
Terry G. September 20, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I'm somewhat confused here about the cross training/combining/etc. Didn't the company that reviewed the city (I believe it's the company that has suggested we hire more police) also suggest that the P.D. be broken into two sections, which would indicate having 2 chiefs - one for each section? I'm hoping someone else remember that or I'll have to go digging to find it again.
Rick Karlowski September 20, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Terry G - No, the study did not propose two separate police departments. It basically recommend the DDA be its own "Precient" with a dedicated detail and supervisory personnel (not a separate chief). This was based on the unique aspects of the downtown, and to provide sufficient manpower to adequately police the district and help prevent issues.
Ronald Wolf September 20, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Debbie, you know you are a hero to myself and many Patch readers. That the beast exists and is not a fairytale is true, it is fed by greed, This is why our antiquated city charter and commssion system needs a radical overhall. As the beast now matter how poorly it is serving us, as so perfectly demonstrated by its cave in to Arts Beats and Eats, and previously a handful of downtown bars, it is still works somewhat. I do not see how crippling it to a point where recovery is in question is going to make us any safer from crime, or illness requiring an ambulance response. I wish you could have attended the town hall lecture where the wheat was seperated from the chaff. RO does have a way below average milage compared to surrounding communities that do not attract as many tourists as we do, The one exception being Troy. Unless we have a special election that would be risky as special elections historically have low turnouts I would suggest supporting this band aid for the present time. To implement even a study we will need enough like minded people and after seeing the poor turnout on Wednsday I believe there will be no rush to do what you, Rick,Ted and so many other concerned dyed in the wool Oakies suggest.
LWS September 20, 2012 at 04:57 PM
To Mr. Ronan- I recently had a chance to speak to a retired Royal Oak fire chief. He is a family friend. I don't want to drag him into this debate personally. He says that the city has never, repeat never, complied with the minimum staffing requirement of the minimum staffing charter amendment. Even as of today, he said they are staffed below the requirement. I'm not sure if your figures are accurate, or if the city didn't allow the positions to be filled, but per the former chief, he said he had to deal with the threat of grievances from the fire union over the staffing issue.


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