Fire Department Millage Election

169840833-FOn March 28, I recommended to the Auburn Hills City Council that they approve ballot language for a Fire Department millage election to take place on August 2, 2016.  The Fire Department, which has a millage to support it, has been relying upon another millage, the General Operating millage, for many, many years because its own millage has not produced enough revenue to support its operations.  With the constant growth of our community and a tax base that declined 37% since the great recession of 2008, it has become necessary to increase revenue for the fire department.  The City Charter, as originally approved by the citizens of the community, provides for up to 2.5 mills for fire department operations which includes fire suppression, fire prevention, and life support services.  However, due to the Headlee amendment to the state constitution, the fire millage has been rolled back to 1.7604 mills.  Unfortunately, after losing more than $1 billion in taxable value from the recession, this much-reduced millage rate, coupled with this much lower taxable value, does not produce adequate revenue to fund the fire department and that same circumstance has also greatly reduced the General Operation millage revenue upon which the Fire Department relied for subsidies.  Perhaps there is an easier or clearer way to talk about this, but I’m not sure I can accomplish that without more explanation.  So, the City will provide that explanation over the next couple of months by way of our website, through educational pieces, and through community leaders utilizing opportunities to talk with individual citizens and citizen groups about the request for the additional millage.  Since this will be a Headlee override election, we will not be requesting to raise the maximum allowable millage rate above 2.5 mills.  However, we will be asking voters to approve an increase to the rolled-back rate of 1.7604 to the rate of 2.5 mills.  The impact of that increase of .7396 mills, if approved by voters, is as follows:

 For a property with a market value of $300,000 and a taxable value of $150,000, the increase in taxes would be about $111.00 annually

For a property with a market value of $200,000 and a taxable value of $100,000, the increase in taxes would be about $  74.00 annually

For a property with a market value of $100,000 and a taxable value of $  50,000, the increase in taxes would be about $  37.00 annually

You might find this hard to believe, but with a nighttime population of about 23,000 people (excluding the student population at Oakland University and visitors staying in hotels), and a daytime population that swells to over 100,000, our community operates with only fourteen (14) full time firefighters to address the 24/7/365 needs of the community.  I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that we also rely upon a very valuable group of part time personnel to cover our community.  The full time number of personnel is up from twelve (12) just a couple of months ago.  Through some very careful planning, we have just added two more full time firefighter/paramedics.  Like all of our firefighters, most of their workday is spent responding to medical runs.  While fire suppression is primary in their job description, you can imagine that the vast majority of their calls are for medical/life-saving purposes.  An increase in the fire millage will provide enough funding for ongoing equipment and technology needs and an increase in full time staffing.  We are currently analyzing staffing needs and with added funding, we will be able to add between four and seven full time firefighter/paramedics.  Like everything we do, there will be a close analysis of necessary staffing and no more than what is absolutely needed to provide adequate coverage will be hired.  You have the assurance of your City Manager, Fire Chief, and your Mayor and City Council that a fire millage increase will go toward necessities.  Necessities are defined as equipment, technology and firefighting staff; not  things like raises, bonuses or excessive purchases. 

This is the first of many communications you will see on this topic and we encourage you to reach out to either your local elected officials, Chief Manning, or myself if you would like further information.  Chief Manning and I are fully prepared to share details of the proposed millage election and even greater details about the need for the ballot request.

Tom Tanghe, City Manager

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