By Carolyn Marnon – The City of Wayne and City Council have been looking at options to improve the financial status of Wayne. One possibility is to join the South Macomb Oakland Regional Services Authority (SMORSA) or join with another city to form their own public service authority. On February 3, the council chambers was packed as community members gathered to listen to Steve Duchane, City Manager of Eastpointe, and Edward Klobucher, City Manager of Hazel Park, educate them on the authority they set up to help the budgets of their respective cities.
SMORSA is a joint-collaborative public financing organization, founded by the cities of Eastpointe and Hazel Park in 2014 and approved for funding in February 2015, for the sole purpose of funding public safety, and wherein money stays in the community in which it was raised; each city maintains independent operations of their police and fire departments.
Public Act 57 of 1988 provides for the incorporation by two or more municipalities of certain authorities for the purpose of providing emergency services to municipalities, to provide for the powers and duties of authorities and certain state and local agencies and offices; to guarantee certain labor contracts and employment rights in regard to the formation and reorganization of authorities, to provide for certain condemnation proceedings, to provide for fees, to provide for the levy of property taxes for certain purposes, and to prescribe penalties and provide remedies.
SMORSA utilizes the funding options for emergency services that are made through PA 57, an existing law in the State of Michigan. SMORSA will collect an annual millage of 14 mills in each municipality, and then contract fire and emergency services back to each respective city. In addition to primary fire and rescue services, services and activities such as joint equipment purchases, specialized arson investigation and joint training, may be provided by SMORSA if unanimously agreed upon by each city and the SMORSA board, which currently consists of the city manager from each city and a county treasurer seat that will rotate annually between Macomb County and Oakland County. If Wayne were to join SMORSA, this configuration could change to keep the odd number of board members.
SMORSA has benefitted Eastpointe in several ways. Eastpointe has hired three new firefighters, they’ve had the funding to hire two new police officers, they were able to replace old police vehicles and they’ve been able to perform critical capital maintenance as needed.
If Wayne wanted to join SMORSA, the first step would be to get Council approval. Once Council approves, the voters must be informed on what SMORSA is, how it works, associated costs, and the benefits of membership. After that, it’s all up to the voters. To become a member, the majority of voters must approve the SMORSA millage.
SMORSA guarantees that all money raised in a city stays in that city. Members keep and manage all funds raised in their city through the 14-mill tax levy. The tax-levy will remain in effect until 2035, which means long-term public safety security for all member cities.
How does this affect the Wayne-Westland Fire Association? Westland does not benefit from this if Wayne joins. The money from Wayne’s millage would go only to Wayne.
The hiring of an Emergency Manager for Wayne is not beneficial to Wayne. An EM would come in and cost the city approximately $150,000 for their salary. Wayne would have to pay for lawyers and accounting firms that the EM would also bring in. All this, Ed Klobucher remarked, “just for the privilege of being managed by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.”
When Ed and Steve were trying to pass the millages in their cities, they did not spend any taxpayer money on the campaign to inform voters. They talked about what they wanted to do at council meetings. They had town hall meetings to educate voters. They put the word out on social media. They also had employee unions and other volunteers willing to knock on doors and talk to people.
If Wayne were to try to join SMORSA, Mayor Susan Rowe said the City Council would aim for the August primary ballot to pass the millage and then levy the millage on the winter taxes. City Manager Lisa Nocerini reminded the audience that if the City does nothing, Wayne will be broke at the end of 2017. This is not the only solution for Wayne. Steve and Ed came to present a solution that has worked for them. They don’t care whether Wayne joins SMORSA or not; they do not benefit in any way if Wayne does decide to join them. However, “This can be a community builder,” said Ed. It’s up to Wayne to decide what they will do.
At the City Council meeting on March 1, Jill Lezotte-Kates represented the Community Financial Task Force and recommended that the council put the 14 mill tax levy on the August ballot. The council then unanimously approved a resolution for the City of Wayne to become a participating member in SMORSA. Wayne Police Chief Al Maciag believes that “The passage of this millage is essential in rebuilding our understaffed police department. Currently, the Wayne Police Department’s staffing levels are well below that of a safe, proactive department. The safety of the community and of my officers is my number one priority.”