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City Commission Supports Placing Public Safety Millage on November Ballot

Commissioners approve placing a five-year tax levy at a maximum rate of 3.975 mils before voters.

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 , 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 in June, 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.

Curtis wright July 18, 2012 at 03:57 AM
We pay enough, raise the property tax too much and you risk ending up like Ferndale and Madison Heights (low housing values). It's all about the house you get for the payment. Make the payment too expensive for too small a house and people will just look elsewhere (Berkley has a lower millage and the same quality of life). When people start looking elsewhere then housing prices never rise as fast as surrounding cities.
Rick Karlowski July 18, 2012 at 11:42 AM
True, but you can'y even start to get Social Security until you are 62, Medicare at 65. Don't think it is asking too much for those with $50,000 and up pension to have to have some reasonable co-pays and deductibles.
Rick Karlowski July 18, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Interesting you raise the threat of an emergence manager and the possible dire consequences. Why isn't that very same logic being used regarding getting some changes to retiree health care, which is bankrupting this city, millage or no millage. I'm not saying end all benefits, but how about Blue Cross PPO 3 versus Classic, and a reasonable copay based on age and pension.
Rick Karlowski July 18, 2012 at 11:55 AM
Very well stated. You are exactly right. If a high millage rate meant higher property values, Southfield, Hazel Park, and Madison Heights would have the highest property values around.
Steve Teichow July 18, 2012 at 12:34 PM
None out the cities that you listed have a vibrant downtown like we do here inRO! Raise my taxes, I'll pay for the great city I live in and support more public safety!
JH July 18, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Given the tax assessment value of my house, this millage will cost me far more than the $268 average. Even so, this is something I would strongly urge other residents to join me in voting in favor of passing the millage. According to City Data, Royal Oak has 1.12 officers per 1,000 residents. In comparison, Berkley has 1.85 officers per 1,000 residents Clawson has 1.41 officers per 1,000 residents Troy has 1.52 officers per 1,000 residents Birmingham has 1.59 officers per 1,000 residents Ferndale has 1.82 officers per 1,000 residents Madison Heights has 1.78 officers per 1,000 residents Southfield has 2.01 officers per 1,000 residents Huntington Woods has 2.97 officers per 1,000 residents Pleasant Ridge has 2.46 officers per 1,000 residents Royal Oak has less police officers per resident than ANY of the surrounding cities. If this is not corrected, it would be very foolish to expect the crime rate of Royal Oak to stay low in the years to come. Please help keep our city safe by supporting this millage.
The Duke of Royal Oak July 18, 2012 at 03:30 PM
What is the exact cost to homeowners if the millage is passed? Is it based on state equalized value and at what percentage to value? This should have been covered in the original article.
The Duke of Royal Oak July 18, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Screen name has been allowed by Patch. Why is that a problem for you? This is a forum for discussion of subject matter and perhaps enlightening each other and not personal criticism . Please stay with subject. Don't kill the messenger. If the format of screen names disturbs you please contact the editor of Patch.
JH July 18, 2012 at 03:38 PM
The proposal is for up to 3.975 mills. 1 mill is equal to one dollar tax per thousand dollars of tax assessed value. You can get this value on Zillow, and it is approximately half of the value of your house (meaning the tax assessed value is around $50,000 on a house that would sell for $100,000). For example, if your tax assessed value is $50,000 then this would cost you $198.75 per year, or $16.56 a month.
Tony V. July 18, 2012 at 04:15 PM
You could do the same comparison with the same cities and bar seats. Royal Oak would have more bar seats per capita than any other city in Michigan. Why do the city leaders keep adding to the policing burden by adding more bars?
JH July 18, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Tony V,, I don't doubt that you are correct. I am not pro-bar nor pro-drunks, but I do not see how this is relevant unless somebody can show me that the percentage of city resources (as a whole, not just police) that is consumed by the downtown is greater than the percentage of city resources contributed by the downtown (taxes). Taxes are assessed based on property value, so the downtown area does already pay more taxes, as well as having an additional ~2 mill levy. Regardless of this, I would like the city to stay safe and I am willing to pay for it. I am not opposed to increased taxes for the bars as well, but it is clear that the reduction in property values (and therefore lower taxes on homeowners) has left the city underfunded.
Tony V. July 18, 2012 at 04:29 PM
If Royal Oak has 54 plus bars, and growing, and only 67 police officers, then perhaps, they've help create their own public safety mess. I'm not willing to bail them out for their bad decisions.
The Duke of Royal Oak July 18, 2012 at 04:53 PM
The Royal Oak Police Chief has told the City Commissioners that the police department is over stressed and advised the city commission against any more alcohol establishments. Yet the mayor and city commissioners continue to approve more alcohol establishments against the police chief's recommendation.
JH July 18, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I'm not sure but I think this is directed at me. I do not support approving more liquor licenses. I do not support the mayor, nor the city commissioners. I do support a safe, family-friendly Royal Oak. To me, this requires an adequate police force. Based on the police staffing, they would be understaffed even if they did not patrol the downtown area at all. We need less bars, AND more officers. This is not a cure-all, but I believe it's a step in the right direction.
JH July 18, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Tony, You make it sound like Royal Oak would have enough officers if it weren't for the bars... but that's not true. We have (as shown above) less officers per citizen than cities that don't even have downtown areas. If the officers did not respond to the downtown calls at all, we would still be understaffed. I agree that there are too many bars, but there are also too few officers... even if there were zero bars, we would need more officers.
Scott Warheit July 18, 2012 at 05:33 PM
DT (and all others curious) - Here's a link to an explanation from Oakland County that explains the difference between State Equalized Value SEV and Taxable Value (it's describes pretty well how taxes are calculated under Proposal A and gives you some specific examples): http://www.oakgov.com/equal/assets/doc/07_01_A_Guide_to_PropA.pdf. Should be pretty helpful. -Scott
Tony V. July 18, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Then the approproiate approach would be to have a moratorium on liquor licenses, too. I think a lot of people are leery of supporting a millage (especially of this size) without the assurance that more and more bars aren't added. Is this, indeed, the largest millage increase request in Royal Oak's history?
JH July 18, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I support a moratorium on liquor licenses, but I do not think the lack of a moratorium should prevent anybody from supporting the millage. If Royal Oak were looking to have above average police staffing to deal with the bars, then I would not vote in favor without a moratorium, but they're just trying to get back closer to (and still below) the staffing level of the surrounding areas. I don't know the history, but I would guess that this is likely the largest increase... but if it passes, taxes will STILL be lower than they were 10 years ago. The drop in property values has lowered everybody's taxes to a level that does not fund the level of city services we are accustomed to. The millage would allow a higher tax RATE (as in percentage of home value) but due to the lower home values, taxes paid would still be lower than they used to be.
The Duke of Royal Oak July 18, 2012 at 06:00 PM
What about some give and take. #1 Included in this tax increase should be a 5 year moratorium on alcohol establishments. #2 A milleage to support the Royal Oak Animal Shelter.
JH July 18, 2012 at 06:08 PM
If this were an option at this point, I would be in favor. I support a moratorium and I would vote in favor of a millage to support the animal shelter. Unfortunately, it appears are only options are going to be pass the millage, or don't. Given the options, I am strongly in favor of passing it. Maybe you could take up the cause of passing a millage to support the animal shelter? I'm not sure how to go about this, but I think it would pass. I'd certainly vote for it.
Timothy FLASH Gorman July 18, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Yes JH, even with the tax increase, which I support, taxes would be less tha ten years ago... BUT... I am fortunate to be working right now but my income is 25% less than ten years ago and almost every cost (food, clothing, gas, education, utilities, etc.) have risen exponentially compared to ten years ago. Discretionary spending is extremely limited and EVERY added expense has to be carefully considered, what has to be "given up" to allow for increased tax payment? A lot of people have to make that choice.
JH July 18, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Understood, but please keep in mind that the cost of everything the city has to pay for has increased as well. What are you willing to give up to keep the city safe? Also, think about property values... if the crime rates go up, your property value will fall. Not passing the millage could cost you much more in the long run - both monetarily and otherwise.
The Duke of Royal Oak July 18, 2012 at 06:59 PM
It is unfortunate that our elected officials have not consider the concept of attaching a moratorium and funding of the animal shelter. they should monitor Patch as this is one of the best forums of local public opinion that I know if. I will look into why there has never been a millage proposal to fund the animal shelter.
The Duke of Royal Oak July 18, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Thanks JH for your in put on the animal shelter
JH July 18, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I think it's possible they would lose more votes than they'd gain by attaching a moratorium. A lot of younger people have moved to Royal Oak specifically because there is a lot of night life and would vote against a moratorium. I think an animal shelter millage would be likely to pass on its own. I think it would be very insignificant in cost compared to the public safety millage. Probably even less than the DIA millage, which is 0.2 mills.
Judy Davids (Editor) July 18, 2012 at 07:32 PM
DT, Patch Terms of Use say "We encourage, but do not require, that the user name you provide be your real name." So since you asked me to get involved, I am encouraging you to use your real name. Please do. Simply edit your profile.
Debbie Campbell July 18, 2012 at 07:42 PM
–I can’t support the way the Mayor and Commission is going about this millage. Taxpayers who are not in the bar business will be saddled with the entire burden of paying for additional police officers for the downtown. Has the Commission EVER--discussed the number of additional police officers the DDA will be required to pay for with the downtown taxes they capture? All the Mayor and Commission talks about is the number of police officers that will be paid for by the rest of us. To be fair the Commission needs to enter into an agreement with the DDA –a contract that specifies the DDA pays for the dedicated downtown police unit that was recommended by the ICMA study in addition to the 2-3 officers they currently fund. At the Safe Neighborhoods Dialogue the police chief stated that crime is trending down In RO and we might question why the need for additional police officers. Police Chiefs have consistently recommended the commission NOT open more bars and the Commission has consistently ignored those recommendations. This Commission only wants to hire more police officers so they can continue to open more bars. Any and all additional Police officers will continue to be sucked out of the neighborhoods to baby-sit problems in the downtown.
Mike Ripinski July 18, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Ms campbell & Others...... Consider that the parking fund surplus currently contributes about $1 million to the general fund ( as stated by City manager Johnson ) which equates to about 10 police officers. Now consider from where that excess parking revenue is generated. The restaurants, the bars and other entertainment establishements in our downtown. Without those there is no $1 million to apply toward public safety and you have 10 fewer officers on our already understaffed force. Now I may surprise a lot of people by AGREEING that we need to consider very carefully any NEW Liquor Licenses. I am concerned about the current saturation level. However we already had the vote on the moratorium and it was voted down 2 to 1. Lets move on Folks. This millage will benefit the ENTIRE city of Royal Oak and we need to support it.
Fred July 19, 2012 at 12:20 AM
We already had a vote on a 1.75 mills millage, and it was voted down 2 to 1.
John Saylor September 05, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Royal Oak is a city that includes a vibrant downtown, great neighberhoods, and a great future. That could have described Detroit, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Flint and a host of other cities 25 years ago. But the way you keep RO from becoming those cities is you support business that are located here, who want to come here, and make sure the citizens of the city feel safe. That does not mean penalizing business only because they serve alcohol, and that also means having the number of officers need to ensure safety. The ICMA study told you what is needed, In the past similiar commissions told the aforementioned cities the same thing. They didn't listen. It appears more than a few aren't in Royal Oak either!

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