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Wayne voters asked to join unusual public safety authority

a police squad car
Flickr user Scott Davidson/Flickr

Residents of Wayne, a small community about 25 miles west of Detroit, will see a public safety millage question on their Tuesday primary ballots.

It’s a slightly unusual one, though.

The question will ask Wayne residents whether they want to join a regional authority that funds public safety services — the South Macomb Oakland Regional Services Authority, or SMORSA.

They’ll join two other communities, Eastpointe and Hazel Park, in two different counties (Wayne is in Wayne County), that voted to form the authority last year.

It’s a 14-mill, 18-year tax levy that will fund police and fire services in Wayne, and only Wayne, according to Mayor Susan Rowe.

“It’s just strictly for funding,” Rowe said. “We don’t share any services, we don’t share any equipment. It’s strictly money.”

Wayne will just collect the nearly $5 million a year the millage would raise, and send it to SMORSA, which would send the money back to the city, Rowe said.

“So that allows us to take the funds that we were using out of our general fund, and use that now for something else, because we don’t have to fund police and fire totally from general fund,” she said.

The SMORSA set-up is based on a 1988 Michigan law, Public Act 57, which allows non-contiguous communities to create regional authorities for the purpose of funding public safety.

As Michigan’s local governmentshave come under increasing fiscal stress, it’s now being used as a way to get around state-imposed limits on raising property taxes without sacrificing essential services.

In Eastpointe, one of the SMORSA’s founding cities, “We were backed up against the wall,” said Mayor Suzanne Pixley. “Our residents were actually coming to us and begging us to increase our taxes. But we were limited with the millage that we could collect.”

Wayne is up against a similar wall at the moment.

If the authority millage fails, Rowe says the city will have to ask the state to intervene, and likely declare a financial emergency. That could led to the appointment of an emergency manager.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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