Last week the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees held two full days of budget sessions, asking department heads to come before the board with budget requests and justifications for those requests.
The process started last June as department heads first started telling the treasurer and supervisor what expenditures they needed – or wanted.
The township budget of $15,466,393 started with $1.32 million more in budget requests than what was coming in. After the first day of the budget sessions, that overage was whittled down to about $600,000.
Supervisor Cindy King said if that can’t be reduced further, the board may have to transfer that additional $600,000 or so from the landfill fund, along with the $3.3 million already slated for transfer to balance the budget.
One of the big issues during the budget discussions was whether the board would go along with the Public Safety Department’s request to hire nine additional police officers as promised to the public during the campaign to pass an additional public safety mill.
That is expected to cost $720,000, Public Safety Director Jerry Champagne told the board.
Then, the fire department had promised to staff both fire stations 24/7 if voters approved the three-mill renewal and the one-mill addition, which they did.
“The biggest thing in the millage was to add nine officers,” Champagne told the board, noting all nine officers wouldn’t be on board Jan. 1 and so salaries wouldn’t be taken from the budget until they were hired.
The nine includes five officers to change to a five-beat patrol system and the Special Investigations Unit of one sergeant and three officers.
He said, to begin with, he anticipates buying two normal cars for the SIU officers that would have suppressed plates and that they would drive home. In his budget the cars would be $20,000 each. Officers are figured at $80,000 each, which includes uniforms, training, equipment, and benefits.
Clerk Joannie Payne asked about the difference between the detectives already on staff and the SIU.
Captain Greg Laurain said the three detectives wear shirts and ties and are reactive, following up on misdemeanors and felonies and seeking warrants.
He said the SIU would be dressed very casually, “down and dirty,” and would be pro-active, working undercover to do narcotics buys. They would be “good to go” at the drop of a hat and do anything they have to do, Laurain said.
Laurain said this is a growing community and there have been drive-by shootings and increased drug activity.
“We work with other departments and Livonia does a lot of business in the subdivisions in our south end,” Laurain said. “There’s a lot of crime out here and they serve search warrants in our community, kicking down doors and recovering drug money.”
“One community alone did five raids in our community,” Champagne said. “Federal and state officers are out here doing surveillance, serving search warrants.”
Champagne said the new SIU will investigate, do surveillance, “and try to catch those guys.” Besides drugs, they will be proactive on retail frauds, break ins, identity thefts, and other crimes, he said.
VBT had been part of a regional task force made up of officers from various communities, Champagne said. It was spread out over many communities for auto theft and 80-90% of its time was spent in Detroit recovering stolen cars to justify its existence.
“This doesn’t do much for Van Buren Township,” Champagne said.
Champagne said SIU activities in other communities are driving the criminals to Van Buren Township where there is no SIU.
He said police departments in Inkster, Taylor, Wayne, and Livonia and those to the west of VBT are making it uncomfortable for the criminals.
“Drug dealers want to be safe from other drug dealers,” Champagne said. “In several areas in this community they feel safer, since this area is not known for drugs.”
He said drug dealers have settled in the more affluent areas of the township and hide their assets there, too. But, he continued, their customers come out here to buy drugs. There also are shipments of stolen goods going through this area.
“We were in a consortium for 20 years and paid the wages of our officer in the group, but we weren’t getting any money back,” he said referring to Western Wayne Narcotics. “We cut our losses and left that consortium.”
Captain Ken Brooks said, “Now, if we hit the mother lode, the seizure money stays here.”
Champagne said drug money seizures would offset the costs of future equipment.
“Once you identify what’s going on, you will see a crime rate raise,” he said.
“We’re between two of the most problem areas in Wayne County. We see regular traffic here between those communities and the fall out of crime here.
“Not only can they hide out here and hide assets, but they easily travel between Detroit and here,” he said.
Champagne said identity theft is the largest crime nationwide and the SIU would work on that, too.
Supervisor King asked if copper theft was a problem in the township and Champagne said it wasn’t, but there were air conditioners stolen from a township site and another township facility was broken into.
Trustee Phil Hart said that a significant amount of people come to our community without a respect for law. He said that is seen at the high school, but the school is not the township’s responsibility.
“The level of crime is getting higher and higher,” Hart continued. “Gangs are coming into our community … We really need to get a handle on it … Drive-by shootings? We didn’t have that a few years ago. It’s a big concern to me and my family. I support it [SIU].”
Champagne said there is a significant amount of theft in this community. He said when he was lobbying for the millage he went to homeowner meetings. He said he told the residents that a lot of times you won’t report things missing, but if several neighbors have things missing, there is a pattern, so thefts should be reported.
He said of the 75 people at one meeting, over a dozen had stuff stolen. He said items were stolen from the fire department construction site and a township vehicle was stolen.
“I want to know if there’s board support for nine officers,” Supervisor King said, noting there is a shortfall in the township budget and the majority of the increase in the budget is those nine officers.
Treasurer Sharry Budd said the four mills for public safety will be reduced by the Headlee Amendment and, “We had a hit from the tax tribunal from one of our taxpayers.” She referred to the Sept. 12 consent judgment from the Michigan Tax Tribunal on a tax appeal from Ecorse Belleville LLC.
Budd said taking on nine new people and their families and benefits, “I don’t know how we can physically support it.”
King said someone close to State Rep. Andy Dillon said he is fairly certain there will be a cut in state shared revenue again this year.
King said she has talked with Champagne about his plan to hire the officers and the SIU can’t be done without new hires.
“We made a commitment to the voters and if we don’t follow through it might be misleading to the public,” King said. “We said one additional mill would bring improvements.”
She said the township has two conflicting forces, the commitment to the public and the cuts in revenue, including the tax tribunal case, the expected reduction in taxable values next year, foreclosures, etc.
“We’ve made a commitment to the public and the public does remember if they’ve decided to give another dollar from their wallet,” King said.
“Does it have to be nine? Is that the minimum number? The maximum number?” Payne asked.
Champagne said before the election, the public wanted to know exactly what the money would buy.
“They asked me, ‘How can we guarantee the board won’t take it away from you?'” he said. “People were skeptical. We went bare minimum. We were told more than one mill wouldn’t be passed.”
Champagne said with less than five new officers they couldn’t guarantee the five-platoon system.
Payne asked if the detective bureau could supervise SIU, thus saving the hiring of one person.
Champagne said four people are needed for SIU. He said to conduct a raid, buy, sell narcotics, the minimum is four. With gun fights, violent felons, an immediate supervisor is needed. Without that, the liability would be too high, he said.
King pointed out the Public Safety budget is $8.8 million, and all the revenue for public safety comes to just $5.842, leaving them $3 million shy.
“Four mills doesn’t provide all you need,” King said, noting Public Safety accounts for 57% of the general fund.
“Unless it’s made up from the landfill fund, we sit with a deficit,” she said.
Trustee Leanne Clair said there is a shortfall from the state and increased crime activity everywhere.
“I would like a five-beat system and see the need for SIU,” she said. “I hesitate to take on families we can’t keep on.
“The voters have told us where our priorities lie – to support an increase when their budgets are decreasing … the big picture is to assess priorities township wide … There’s nothing worse than telling people they don’t have jobs,” Clair said, adding she would like to “chew on” the information for a while.
“What if we can’t afford them?” Trustee Walter Rochowiak said. “I promised people we would do this… What are we going to do next year when we don’t have the money?”
Champagne said more revenue will be generated and in future years the training for the new hires will not be needed.
King said she got e-mails that said to get a millage passed in this economic time was most unusual. While other communities passed renewals, VBT was one of the few to get an increase, she said.
“They still went to the polls and said yes,” King said.
“A lot of things have happened since the proposal,” Rochowiak said. “I don’t think the money is going to be there. I’m concerned…”
“We really, really thought this out,” Champagne said. “People said if we get this, we’ll vote yes. If we took this one mill away, we’d still be facing a deficit.
“I’m fearful if we don’t give the public what we promised, we won’t get a renewal next time,” Champagne said.
“We promised the people,” Rochowiak said, “but looking to the future … We have a $987,000 shortfall, and we’re still digging … But, this is a promise we can’t break.”
Fire Chief Mark Nicholai gave his presentation on the fire budget that calls for hiring six full-time fire employees and one fire marshal. He said he isn’t trying to create a full-time department.
He said his goal is for three full-time captains, three full-time lieutenants, and one part-time training officer.
He said he would like one captain and one lieutenant on duty each shift, one at each fire hall, and they would each have one paid per call duty crew member.
He said he wants to eliminate the present full-time fire inspector and create a full-time fire marshal, who would be paid through fees from buildings and facilities inspected.
Chief Nicholai said he still needs a deputy chief, but he is not asking for the person in this year’s budget because of the economy.
“With the millage we promised to staff both stations and with this proposal we’d fulfill our promise,” Hart said.
After listening to the needs from all the departments, and sending some requests back to the drawing board, the budget will be put together by King and Budd and presented to the board for approval before the end of the year.
King said 3% raises have been plugged into the numbers so those not in the unions to be in line with the union contract raises.