Millage Increase Possible For Police In Pittsfield Township

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the police millage in Pittsfield Township is 3.5 mills. The public safety millage for 2020 was 1.9031 mills, according to the township treasurer's office.

Will Pittsfield Township taxpayers see their police millage go from 1.9031 mills to 3.95 mills? Well, that will all depend on how they vote on May 4.

“The proposed increase should be adequate for what we need for the next ten years,” Pittsfield Township Director of Public Safety Matthew Harshberger told the Sun Times News.

The Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees had nothing but good things to say about the police and fire fighters who keep the township safe, Wednesday evening. But there are several issues on the horizon that Harshberger presented.

The township is growing, and the number of officers won’t be able to keep up their current abilities without hiring more personnel, according to Harshberger. Predictable budget requirements are one thing, but unforeseen disasters – like the coronavirus pandemic – are just as hard to budget for as to predict. The

“Strategically, I think we need to be careful at the start of the millage, to make sure that we do build up the rainy day fund, so that we’re still able to operate public safety services … hire personnel [and] get equipment, because we don’t know what the future years are going to be from a forecast standpoint,”

Harshberger said, adding that additional spending would be “somewhat conservative to start, to make sure that we can last for ten years and still have enough money and [not have to] go back to the voters early.”

With multiple retirements on the horizon, the current $11 million budget just enough to skirt by on, and the grants that the township is using to keep the department going, Harshberger convinced the Trustees that more funding was necessary.

This millage would last ten years and go into effect in 2022. If the millage passes it will generate about $8 million per year, according to Township estimates. Part of the Department of Public Safety’s funding comes from the general budget.

The department is also going to be investing in a body worn camera system for all of its officers. The department is currently testing out half a dozen cameras from two different suppliers, to determine which system is best for them. Right now the decision will be between suppliers Axon or the Motorola product Watchguard.

Police worn body cameras came to national prominence in the last decade, as a response to accusations of police brutality against People of Color, and as part of a general movement towards transparency and accountability, as well as being a tool for evidence collection. Some people have resisted cameras over privacy concerns, which has led to a scattershot map of local laws and court rulings.

“The reason that the township has waited this long to equip our personnel with body cams was to let the landscape with regard towards both national and state laws and statues settle down. We feel comfortable that we have reached such a landscape at this point,” Supervisor Mandy Grewal said.

The extra money would allow Pittsfield Township to hire more officers, to both allow the number of officers and civilian employees to keep up with the number of citizens over the next decade. The department is already attempting to get around a lack of applicants by partnering with Washtenaw Community College.

Harshberger also presented the findings of a survey
of 300 residents, which showed positive reviews for the department. Three quarters of the respondents reported good interactions with the department, according to the survey. The survey also found that 83.4 percent of respondents were in favor of the police using body worn cameras.

The problem with it, said Trustee Linda Edwards-Brown is that the respondents demographics do not represent the demographics of Pittsfield Township.

“I think that one of the things we really need to do when we’re able to safely … is actually begin to meet with and talk to citizens face to face. There are a lot of folks who don’t trust systems, and we are a system. …. I don’t know why we had such a low response from our minority population,” Edwards-Brown said.

Edwards-Brown added that she did not know why this was, but finding out why and pursuing a more accurate survey of the public's perception of the Department of Public Safety is something she wants to tackle after the pandemic ends.

The comments attached to the survey included comments from anonymous responders on how people specifically answered questions. When asked about whether Pittsfield should make an effort to increase the diversity of its offers, several people said they were against it because they did not want to do that because it would “lower” the “standards” of policing.

“Diversity is important, but standards should not be lowered in [the] hiring practice,” One anonymous respondent said.

Other respondents gave similar quotes. But not all of them said that. Other respondents suggested going directly to colleges, or religious institutions, which the township is doing. Or others declined to comment.

When asked about this, Grewal emphasized the open, tolerant and inclusive culture in Pittsfield Township. The survey reported that 68.95 percent of respondents “agree or strongly agree that addressing equity gaps should be a priority for the department. This despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the respondents (77.5 percent) were Caucasian.”

“I want to believe that these are trolls,” Edwards-Brown said.

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Every year the assement on my home increases which generates increased taxes without any milage increase. Also, the article points out that more people are moving into the township which also increases tax revenues.  Stop the incessant tax creep and live within your means. Most people do not get a 2% increase every year in their income yet, thru increased assessments, our taxes go up 2% each year. I will vote no.

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This article erroneously states that the current Public Safety millage in Pittsfield is 3.5 mills. The current Public Safty milage is actually 1.95 mills. It was nearly doubled in 2011, to 1.95 mills, through 2021. The Township now proposes to nearly double it again, through another special election in May. Here is the information from the Township website on the current millage: "On May 3, 2011 Pittsfield Township residents voted to approve the 1.95 Public Safety Millage that will be effective 2012-2021." The decision by the Board to place this increase on a special election ballot is costly. The issue could have been placed on the November 2020 ballot at no cost to the Township. Instead, in a less publicized election in May, Pittsfield's taxpayers will pay the entire cost of the election (workers, ballots, advertising, etc.).

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My apologies for the typo in my comment above.
Note: Please remember that this is a supplemental millage in Pittsfield. The Special Voted Public Safety millage can only be used for Public Safety, although the uses are many and include the department's administration. 

Public Safety in Pittsfield also receives a majority of the General Fund property tax paid by property owners. The amount that Public Safety receives from the General Fund is at the discretion of the Board of Trustees, in an annual Budget proposed by the Supervisor.

The Board could choose to allocate less of the General Fund to Public Safety, if the supplemental millage increase is approved. This would allow more General Fund dollars to be spent on non-essential services. We do not yet know the budget allocations for 2022.

To calculate the increase before voting on May 4, use the assessment notice that is being mailed to each property owner soon. Take the Taxable Value (TV) on that notice. Divide by 1000. Then, multiply by 1.95. That is the current dollar amount of the supplemental Public Safety millage that is paid on that property. Then, take the same TV divided by 1000, and multiply by 3.95. That is the new amount that will be paid by the property owner. To find out the dollar amount the tax bill will increase, subtract the first figure from the second.

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Finally, I have to say, Thank You to Drew Saunders for this report! Little is reported about Pittsfield Township, and this is a good article. The comments from the Board meeting are accurate and on point. I appreciate that he attended the meeting. The millage amount was hard to find, and I do not fault Mr. Saunders for the error. It was not presented transparently at the meeting and could only be found through a search on the Township Website. I happened to remember the amount, and looked it up after the meeting. Thank you for attending the Board meeting, and please keep up the good work!

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