2017-12-07 / Front Page

Wells questions mayor’s use of police millage

BY TANYA TERRY
810-452-2645 • tterry@mihomepaper.com

BURTON — Councilman Danny Wells, a former councilman who was recently voted back onto the city council, presented an idea that was respected, but not popular with the rest of the council at the Dec. 4 city council meeting.

The item being voted on by the council was to approve and authorize the city treasurer to pay a MERS lump sum of $976,000 to be applied to the unfunded liability of the city.

Wells attempted to have the item moved from the agenda.

“I know that we passed a police millage,” Wells said. “We’ve all had visions of taking care of the pension fund.”

Wells said citizens told him they were concerned there were not enough police in the city as he was campaigning.

“Where are all the police officers,” he asked.

He said he had talked to the police chief earlier that day. He said there were 36 police officers, but Burton was budgeted for 40.

“They can’t get to 40 because when the millage was removed, and the millage skipped to four mills, it removed an opportunity for the mayor to keep the police officers at 40,” Wells said.

Council President Steve Heffner said when the millage was passed, Burton residents were promised 36 police officers.

“We are budgeted for 40, but if I budget for 40 now that the general operating has been cut it’s not going to be sustainable,” Mayor Paula Zelenko said. “So, I have chosen not to hire to 40 at this point until we decide what we’re going to do. As you see with the five-year forecast, you need that general fund balance in order to transfer to supplement the police fund.”

Wells said his point was it would be nice to pay about a million dollars on the pension fund. However, he said the situation of the city’s unfunded liability did not occur overnight and could not be fixed overnight.

“We can take some of that money and build our police department back,” he said. “We may want to put some of it towards our water department. We need to look at what’s going on in the world today, not three or four years ago, or five years ago, and make rational decisions.”

Wells said the council had a million dollars to work with. He asked about the possibility of sending half a million dollars to pay down the unfunded liability, instead of the proposed amount.

Councilman Vaughn Smith, who also said he wanted more police officers, said although police officers would get a raise with Wells’ idea, their MERS pension plans costs would go up.

Council Vice President Duane Haskins, who said he wanted 42 police officers working in Burton, said the city was making headway with reducing its unfunded liability. He said Burton wouldn’t have any police officers if the city hadn’t stepped up to tackle the pension costs and police officers were paying 30 percent of their pension out of their paychecks. He challenged Wells to bring numbers that supported his idea would work.

The council voted not to remove the item, and vote 6-1 to approve the motion for the city treasurer to make the payment.

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