HVA principals, President / CEO Ron Slagle (left) and Dale Berry-President Emeritus, attended the June 26, 2018 Township Board of Trustees Meeting.
Jul. 20, 2018 PLYMOUTH VOICE.
Plymouth Michigan News
Officials rethink HVA-Ambulance Service
Plymouth Township officials approved a combined ballot proposal for a public safety millage during a special meeting last Tuesday. If approved by voters Nov. 6, the proposal will impose a 1.2 mill tax levy for a period of 18 years to fund the police and fire departments in the township. The millage request is intended to cover unfunded legacy payments and aid critical public safety funding, officials said.
Agreement to place the question on the ballot prompted prolonged discussion among board members, which at times became heated. The ballot initiative was approved by a 5-2 vote, with Trustees Jack Dempsey and Chuck Curmi casting the dissenting votes.
According to Township Treasurer Mark Clinton, the proposal was sparked by the critical need to address the rapidly aging fleet of fire trucks and ambulance vehicles still in use by the township fire department. He noted that recent changes in state law mandate higher levels of funding and greater oversight on municipal unfunded pension, retirement and healthcare obligations for police and fire personnel, referred to as OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits.)
Clinton said that after an in-depth investigation, he determined that the new state legislation leaves the township in a perilous position. The treasurer told board members last week that unless action is taken, the general fund will be unable to handle the legacy costs and OPEB obligations and will be exhausted in just five years. He said that of the current $14 million general fund budget, $5 million is dedicated for public safety salaries.
“We haven’t prepared for the future, that’s why we’re here today,” Clinton said.
The township unfunded pension liability stands at $9.5 million and the unfunded OPEB liability at $16.3 million, and is now classified as under-funded according to state law.
Clinton estimated replacement of township fire apparatus could cost $4.8 million in the next 18 years.
Last year a state authorized task force found a collective $7.46 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and $10.13 billion in unfunded health care liabilities hidden in local governmental finances according to an official report published July 2017.
Clinton told board members last week, “We’re not (currently) addressing the unfunded liability issues for OPEB, we’re simply paying the bills as we receive them…This (millage) will give us enough opening capital to pay those bills.”
Clinton said the millage, “as a bare minimum” would provide the funds necessary to make the required annual payments. He reported that $17 million would be required during the next 18 years to adjust the public-safety staffing levels at an anticipated 2-percent annual rate of inflation. He told board members if the township were to pay off the entire OPEB obligation, the millage would have to be close to 3 mills for 9 years. The millage will yield $2.1 million annually at the current taxable value of property in the township.
Dempsey said he supports the measures to pay pension and healthcare obligations along with the procurement and maintenance of police and fire equipment but objected to the verbiage dealing with salary adjustments for public safety services.
Curmi adamantly opposed moving forward on the entire proposal while pushing for further study and discussion claiming it wasn’t “well planned and worked out.” “You guys love to make it look like we’re going broke,” he said during the discussion.
“We need to have some agreement with all employees-we have other employees we have OPEB for…this permeates the 125-year-old fire model which is obsolete today-it’s 75 percent medical-it doesn’t address what to do with HVA (Huron Valley Ambulance)”
Curmi’s comment referred to the recent approval of a board resolution seeking bids for contract ambulance services and the consideration of in-house fire department hospital transport. HVA, a huge enterprise, has operated in the township for decades without any contractual performance obligation and has been the frequent subject of criticism for long response times and unavailability of ambulances. The township has allowed HVA, a non-profit corporation, to invoice residents and patients for EMS transport services and retain the revenue since 1991 when the deal was approved by former Township Supervisor Maurice Breen.
Township officials plan to file the following language for a ballot referendum with Wayne County by the July 31 deadline.
“Shall the Charter Township of Plymouth impose an increase of 1.2 mills ($1.20 per $1,000 of taxable value) in the charter township tax levy limitation imposed under MCL 42.27 for a period of 18 years, 2018 through 2035 inclusive, with the revenues to be used only for: 1) paying pension, retirement, and health- care obligations for public safety personnel; 2) obtaining, maintaining, and improving fire and police equipment and facilities; and 3) providing police, fire, and dispatch public safety services, thereby raising in the first year $2,100,000.
Photo: © Don Howard-Associated Newspapers