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You Ask, Patch Answers: City Manager Replies to Another Round Millage Questions

Royal Oak's City Manager Don Johnson answers questions about the Nov. 6 public safety ballot measure.

"You Ask, Patch Answers" is where we strive to find answers to all your questions—big, small and in-between—about the town we live and work in.

Whether it’s something you’ve always wondered about, some information you just can’t put your hands on or a sudden curiosity, we want to hear it.

Send your queries to judy.davids@patch.com or leave them in the comments section below, and I will do my best to dig up an answer for you. You also can call me at 248-231-4667.

Public safety millage questions and answers: Questions and comments have been pouring in to Royal Oak Patch since the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously voted to start the process to put a referendum on the ballot this November asking the voters for a public safety millage of 3.975 mills over five years.

To answer readers' millage questions, Patch has ran a series of Q & As with Interim Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue. This week, City Manager Don Johnson jumps in to answer a third round of questions on the ballot proposal.

[Read more answers to your millage questions.]

Is the pension system fully funded? If not, how much is the city behind in its retirement obligations? Will a millage or tax increase be needed for the pension obligations? Again, how much and when?

No, it is not.  According to our most recent actuarial valuation, it is 66.4% funded.  The City is fully funding the Actuarially Required Contribution however.  That is the amount the independent actuary recommends contributing to the pension system annually.  It takes into account and provides for funding the unfunded liability.  A tax levy to fund pensions should not be necessary.

The City eliminated the defined benefit pension for new employees except police officers and firefighters starting July 1, 2005.  It was replaced with a defined contribution system similar to a 401K.  The City also eliminated retiree health care for new employees in all departments starting July 1 2005.

I thought when we paid taxes, it covered police and fire service. Apparently not. My neighbor claims he was billed for a fire run when his garage caught on fire. Can this be true? Does Royal Oak charge residents for fire runs? (I'm not referring to ambulance runs.)

Royal Oak spends far more on police, fire and emergency medical services than we receive in general property taxes.  That will still be true with the proposed millage.  The rest comes from a number of sources including fees for services.  We do invoice insurance companies for fire runs but the amount is no where near the cost of a run.  It is an amount insurance carriers willingly pay.  To not do so wouldn’t be fair to taxpayers. 

Is it true that the City of Royal Oak's Fire Department has owned a vacation property in Northern Michigan that has exclusively been utilized by public servants since the 1930s? If this is true, how can you ask homeowners to subsidize additional spending when city owned assets like land with a hotel style dwelling could be used to generate income.

No, this is a complete fabrication. The City of Royal Oak doesn’t own any property outside of its own boundaries.  You can verify this yourself.  A complete list of all City owned property appears on page 351 of the 2012-2013 budget which can be found at http://www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us/portal/webfm_send/1972.

My question is about minimum staffing, or staffing guarantees in the police and fire departments. A couple years ago, Royal Oak citizens passed a charter amendment requiring minimum staffing in the fire department. As far as I know, the city manager and city commission have never followed that charter amendment. Is the city currently in violation of the City Charter by not following the minimum staffing amendment for the fire department? Does this millage request address the fire-staffing minimum required by the charter.

The language in the Charter regarding fire department staffing is not enforceable for two reasons.  First, the Charter language is subordinate to the Firemen and Policemen Civil Service Act, MCL 38.501 et seq., (more commonly referred to as Act 78), which was approved by the voters in Royal Oak a number of years ago.  The Act provides that police and fire staffing is determined by the "appointing authority", which here in Royal Oak is the City Manager, subject to the approval of the City Commission.  Second, the Charter language is also subordinate to the management rights provision in the negotiated collective bargaining agreement between the City and the Royal Oak Firefighters Association.  That section of the contract provides (among other things) that the City has the sole authority to select and direct the City's work force. 

The Royal Oak Fire Department is adequately staffed with 56 firefighters.  We have at least 14 on duty at all times. They staff three fire stations and operate at least two ambulances. The independent ICMA study of police and fire operations which strongly recommended hiring additional police officers did not recommend any increase in Fire staffing.  We do not need more firefighters and the millage proposal does not provide for any more.

Jim Gillette October 22, 2012 at 03:38 PM
So to summarize from city manager Johnson's answers: The pension fund is woefully underfunded. He purposely doesn't attach an amount to that, but it is many millions of dollars; The city of Royal Oak sends your insurance company an invoice if you have a fire run. This is despite the fact that one pays property taxes. Ultimately, it raises the cost of homeowners insurance that we pay; And the city has never followed the mimimum firemen staffing charter amendment that citizens passed several years ago. No wonder city manager Johnson choses to live outside of Royal Oak. Oh wait, he dodged that question. Sigh!
Rick Seefelt October 22, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Why do there continue to be unpaved-no sidewalk streets in RO. Washington and Custer between Lexington and 13 Mile are examples. These streets become jarringly potholed almost to the point of being impassible during winter, spring and rainy weather. No sidewalks makes them so dangerous for pedestrians and dogwalkers all year long, but especially in winter and during the night.

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