Op-Ed on Proposal Against Increasing Fire Millage

Please Note: The following is an opinion/editorial letter from former Rochester Hills City Councilman Ravi Yalamanchi regarding the proposed fire millage that will be on the upcoming ballot in November. These opinions are his own and should in no way be considered an endorsement by Rochester Media, but rather to show our continuing commitment to presenting all sides of a story and/or issue. You can read former Rochester Hills City Councilman Scot Beaton’s Pro stance on the issue here.  

AMENDMENT TO AUTHORIZE ADDITIONAL MILLAGE FOR FUNDING THE FIRE DEPARTMENT

A proposal to amend the City Charter by modifying Section 4.2, subsection .4.

This subsection authorizes the City to levy up to 2.5 mills for funding of the Fire Department. If adopted, the charter amendment will increase the amount the City may levy for funding of the Fire Department to 3 mills. Shall the City of Rochester Hills Charter be amended to modify Section 4.2 to authorize the City to levy up to 3 mills for funding of the Fire Department?

YES

NO

The proposal does not indicate how much the increase in millage will generate additional revenue for the city.

The proposal increases the millage by 0.5 mills permanently. The additional millage could potentially generate $1.5 million to $1.75 million every year. The current Fire millage generates more than $5.8 million each year and city generates $1.594 million in service charges for EMS services.

The effort to raise Fire millage was being pursued since 2007, while I was on the Council. At that time city was operating its own 911/Dispatch, which was costing annually approximately $1million. In addition as part of the Police Services contract with Oakland County Sheriff’s office the city was paying $300,000 for 911 services. The duplicative and high costs in running the city 911/Dispatch was causing problems for the Fire Operating Fund budget and it lacked operational efficiencies. Without losing any efficiencies and ensuring safety, health and welfare of the residents, the 911/Dispatch was eventually contracted with Oakland County. This contract saved the city annually $750,000. But it took the Council and Mayor five years to take such action, which means during the five years taxpayers lost $3.75 million. Once the 911/Dispatch was moved to Oakland County the city’s Fire Operating Fund started to show a positive outlook.

My understanding, as I was always told, the EMS services are fully recovered by medical billing and almost operate as an enterprise with no cost to the city. If that is true what is the purpose of a permanent increase to the millage where residents will be locked in with the increase.

I received a mailer that mentions two out of five fire stations do NOT have full time Firefighters and Advanced Life Support 24/7 and for about 11cents a day per $100,000 of home value will get the same 24/7 protection the rest of Rochester Hills enjoys.  Obviously this does not take into account all other taxes the residents pay and the increase in taxes since 2011 about 6.1%.

The mailer also indicates – “At the wrong time of day, in certain parts of Rochester Hills, emergency response times can be over 10 minutes”. This is fear mongering and I would call it inefficiency and improper. The claim has always been we have the best response team that will get to a home in less than 5 minutes. Now, the implication is certain parts of the city are well covered for 24/7 while some parts are not. So, if you need the same coverage as other parts of the city you need to pay more money. So the city needs $1.75 million additional revenue every year just to increase capability. Really? Putting fear in residents, through a mailer, is not my way of asking for more hard earned dollars.

In addition to the full time Firefighters and Advanced Life Support the city budgets every year for 80 Paid On Call –Fire Fighters. City regularly uses the Paid On Call Fire Fighters who do an excellent job and it is one of the ways to manage efficiencies.  We have Fire Fighters who are very dedicated and will give their best.

Rochester Hills has five fire stations. What is causing the request for the proposed increase is not clear and no clear data is provided. If there are certain peak demands for services in a year how often is it happening and how are the services being coordinated within the city and with the surrounding communities?

This is a poor financial policy. There are alternatives that city administration can pursue and manage effectively within the current funding which increases year after year, with increased property values, expected to raise to $6.1 million by 2017. The proposed permanent increase request does not provide a comprehensive plan for the city in terms of reconstruction of roads and infrastructure challenges. I guess that will be for another time with the literature saying if you want to enjoy your subdivision roads and homes pay an additional $1 a day per $100,000 of home value.

This millage proposal is in addition to the 2.5 mill increase in 2012 providing estimated revenue of $10,864,000. The continued piece meal approach is not effective method of planning.

With stagnated incomes and more residents moving to retirement with fixed incomes the city has to be careful and very conscientious before asking for additional millage.

I am voting NO on the proposal.

Ravi Yalamanchi

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

Comments

  1. Wow! A pros and cons discussion in a public forum still occurs in Rochester Hills!
    Bravo to both gentlemen for presenting their arguments and opinion pieces!
    And many thanks to Rochester Media for providing the forum and space for a balanced discussion.

  2. Lee Zendel says:

    Dear Ravi-
    As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moyinhan once said ‘You are entitled to your own opinion
    but you are not entitled to your own facts”.
    Let’s talk taxes. In Rochester Hills the only tax money the Fire service receives is from its
    charter millage-no tax money from general fund taxes and you know that fact.
    In 2009 the department’s tax revenue was $6,611,005. In the 2009-2011 period, taxable values in the city shrank dramatically. Thus by 2014 Fire Service tax revenues had only made it back to $5,821,090.
    In 2009 the Department responded to 4859 emergency calls. In 2013 the Department responded to 6152 emergency calls. Extrapolating the number of emergency calls so far in 2014 together with the monthly averages from 2013 gives an estimated total number for 2014 of over 6400 emergency calls. Put another way, from 2009 to 2014 call volume increased over 30% while tax revenue were lower in 2014 than in 2009. The overwhelming percentage of those calls required paramedic services.
    Further, without including the proposed millage, the city’s Finance Director is projecting that the Fire service will not exceed its 2009 tax revenue until the year 2019. More calls, less funds.
    I spent 8 years of public comment at City Council meetings detailing the shortcoming of
    a basically Paid On Call fire service and on relying on a private ambulance company for medical emergencies. The Paid On Call, private ambulance system doesn’t work for a large suburban city if the objective is public safety. It only works for such a city if the primary objective is saving taxpayer money, not lives. You apparently think money is more important than your life, your family’s life, your neighbor’s or friend’s lives. Shame on you. You probably spend more monthly on your cable bill than this tax increase will cost you annually.
    Currently, only 3 of the city’s 5 fire stations respond 24/7 to those medical emergency calls. Unfortunately, all too often those calls do not happen neatly geographically or sequentially. The requested increase in the fire millage will enable our Fire/rescue service to staff all five stations with full time firefighter/paramedics so that the average response time is back within national standards. And response time is crucial to the outcome of an emergency. Yes, quite often it’s the difference between life and death.
    If Rochester Hills is to be “the premier community of choice to live, work, and raise a family” then it needs to first be a place of premier public safety and that will take more tax money for our Fire/rescue Service. I’m voting “YES”

    Lee Zendel

  3. Lee Zendel says:

    Dear Ravi-
    Well the votesr of Rochester Hills just did not listen to you as they passed the fire millage by a 70% yes vote versus 30% no vote.
    Lee
    P.S. the 80-90 number of paid on call firefighters has been just an illusion for a number of years now. The current rooster of active volunteer firefighters is just 49.

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