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Survey:don't reduce services, don't increase millages

Patty Plant of Cranberries CafŤ, 10250 Hegel Road, with some eats during Restaurant Rendezvous on Sunday in Goodrich. Photo by Bob Flath. (click for larger version)
September 01, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- A recent township survey found an overwhelming number of respondents agree that police services are very important, but only half of them would be willing to pay an additional $28 per year to keep from reducing the number of officers.

These were among the clearest results of a township fiscal priorities survey distributed to township residents in July. More than 800 surveys were completed and township officials compiled the results and released them during a budget workshop meeting Aug. 30.

"Primarily, the survey solidified the direction the board is taking in meeting the challenges of a massive shortfall in our budget," said Supervisor Kathy Thurman. "We anticipated positive response to the importance of police, firefighting and ambulance service. We learned they don't want to reduce the level of service, but at the same time don't want millage increases. That leaves us with probably doing a little of both."

Treasurer Terry Beltramo said close to 850 surveys were returned, but some were set aside when respondents didn't indicate they were township residents. He noted that of the surveys returned, not everyone answered all of the questions.

Besides police, fire and ambulance services were also ranked high by survey respondents. Out of 780 answers rating the importance of firefighting services, 724 respondents said fire services were "very important" or "important" and 714 said the same about ambulance/EMS services. Regarding police, 666 respondents classified the service as "important" or "very important."

When asked about reducing police officers, 558 respondents disagreed that the police force should be reduced, while 209 supported the idea of reducing officers. But respondents were almost evenly split on paying an additional $28 per year in taxes to keep the current level of law enforcement, with 391 agreeing they would pay it, and 382 in disagreement.

Respondents do not support reduction of fire or ambulance personnel, with 605 marking "disagree" and 157 marking "agree."

Regarding the senior center, 616 respondents disagreed with closing the facility, while 145 agreed, but a reduction of senior center hours gained more support, with 394 agreeing to this concession and 362 disagreeing. Reduction or elimination of the senior van program met with a majority opposing the move.

Survey respondents had more solid agreement when it came to questions about township employees and reductions in their hours, pay, and benefits, or even elimination of their jobs, with nearly 500 respondents agreeing in each of those categories. More than 600 respondents said employees should be required to pay some of their own benefits and 588 respondents said the hours that the township offices are open should be reduced.

A question about eliminating the recreation department entirely was agreed with by 260 respondents, but 485 disagreed. More respondents favored a reduction of recreation staff, with 552 agreeing and 192 in disagreement.

When it comes to reduction of elected officials' wages, 533 respondents agreed, while 200 disagreed.

Respondents also support a reduction in road chloride application (463 to 196), and paying a fee for township cleanup (580 to 177), but disagreed with paying an administrative fee for tax bills (612 to 246).

"The only thing that surprised me was that the recreation department didn't get high ratings," said Beltramo. "The senior center was high on the approval list, which is good because the seniors deserve that. As far as the township, every number was exactly as I would think— cut employees, cut pay, cut officials' pay, cut benefits."

Thurman said officials would "pare down to basics" to operate police, fire, and the township offices without a major compromise to services.

"We may have to levy more mills for police service and possibly fire department services next year," she said. "Next year we're definitely looking at the police mills going up to the maximum amount that can be levied."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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