• Service all heating systems and all gas-, oil- or coal-burning appliances by a technician annually.
• Install a battery-operated and electric-powered carbon monoxide detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911.
• Contact a doctor if you believe you have carbon monoxide poisoning.
• Do not use gas-powered devices such as a generator, grill or stove inside your home, basement or near a near a window or door. Generators should be operated more than 15 feet from the home.
• Do not run any gas-powered motor inside a closed structure, such as a garage.
Plymouth Township public safety tax would address personnel, equipment, retiree costs
Posted On: Oct 17, 2018
Plymouth Township voters will decide next month whether to raise property taxes to fund public safety needs township officials say have been growing, but ignored, for years.
The proposal for a 1.2-mill, 18-year public safety millage is among several tax plans that voters face in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, general election.
Officials say the new money — estimated at $2.1 million for the first year — would be used to buy and maintain police and fire department equipment, maintain facilities, pay retirement obligations and keep public safety staffing at authorized levels.
Treasurer Mark Clinton, noting that property tax revenue fell by about 20 percent during the Great Recession and will take nine more years, at the current rate, to reach the 2007 level of about $8.1 million, said the can has simply been kicked down the road for too long.
"We're asking for what I believe is the bare minimum amount to keep us going in the right direction," Clinton said.
Clinton sees public safety legacy costs — retired employees' pensions and health care — as a major drag on township finances. He expects the township will spend about $1.6 million this year on public safety legacy costs, a figure that will reach nearly $2.8 million, or about 20 percent of the total budget, by 2025.
"If we keep paying more and more of our budget toward retiree benefits, that means we have less and less of our budget to pay for current operations," Clinton said.
Between now and 2025, more than $5 million in additional money, cumulatively, will be needed to address those costs, according to figures provided by Clinton.
While public safety pensions are currently funded at about 64 percent, Clinton said, future public safety health care costs are completely unfunded. The township has had a pay-as-you-go approach, he said, but a state law passed last year mandates that communities fund retiree health care at a minimum of 40 percent.
Staffing is another issue the new tax money would address. Competition among area communities for qualified applicants to the police and fire services has been fierce for years and officials want to be competitive, they argue
"It's certainly difficult to hire qualified candidates at this point, because they have so many options," Police Chief Tom Tiderington said. "It's very difficult for us to recruit and retain."
The police department currently has 29 officers, one short of its authorized strength. Tiderington said he hopes to hire an additional officer by the end of the year, but that two other officers are known to be seeking work elsewhere.
Even 30 officers, Tiderington said, is lower than the 50-60 officers recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for a community the township's size.
In the fire department, there are currently 21 firefighters, three under the authorized 24. Chief Dan Phillips plans to soon hire three more with the help of a federal grant.
"There is a tremendous amount of competition and recruiting is a huge problem right now," Phillips said.
Phillips said he lost three firefighters in the past 12 months to communities that offered better benefits. "We can expect that to continue if we don't make changes," he said.
Equipment is the third major area the millage is designed to address.
Of the Plymouth Township Fire Department's three front-line fire trucks, one is almost 27 years old and the other almost 30 years old, the chief said.
"They don't even make parts for them any more," Phillips said. The township also lost its tower truck, which allows firefighters to reach the upper floors of taller buildings, when the city of Plymouth left the joint fire department the communities shared for more than a decade, and needs something to replace it.
The department is purchasing a new pumper truck with the help of state funding, but the chief said the other older truck also needs to be replaced — at a cost of about $900,000. In addition, a 13-year-old ambulance also needs to be replaced, Phillips said.
In the police department, Tiderington said, there are constant vehicle needs, with squad vehicles needing to be replaced every two or three years. They're run around the clock, the chief said, and rack up 100,000 or more miles before being retired.
"We've tried to stretch our dollars by keeping our vehicles in service longer," but that adds to maintenance costs, he said.
Tiderington said the township also needs to look for alternatives to money that comes from drug crime-related forfeitures, which Clinton said has been averaging about $450,000 a year. The money can go toward certain police expenses, but the chief warned that it can vary from year to year and that changing political winds could mean that forfeiture funds dry up in the future.
"We've become addicted to drug money," Tiderington said. "It's not a good thing. We need to have enough funding."
Approval would mean a tax increase of $1.20 for every $1,000 in taxable value. That's $180 a year for the owners of a $300,000 home, assuming that home's taxable value is half the market value. Taxable values are often less than half a home's market value, however, especially if the home has had the same owners for several years.
The impact of a 1.2-mill tax increase would vary widely from neighborhood to neighborhood. According to figures provided by Clinton, the average township home has a market value of $310,400 and a taxable value of $129,100. That would mean a tax increase of $155 a year.
In one subdivision, the average taxable value is $38,000, which would mean a $45-a-year hike, while at the higher end, the average taxable value is $254,800, which translates into a nearly $306 increase, according to Clinton's calculations.
At 4 mills, Plymouth Township has the lowest tax rate of any community in Wayne County and it would keep that ranking even with a 1.2-mill increase.
If approved, the millage would show up on property owners' winter tax bills and would be levied yearly through 2035.
Contact Matt Jachman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattjachman.