Bloomfield Township should not have agreed to a "partnership" with a non-profit or private organization, the Greater Bloomfield Senior Association (GBSA), in 2004. There was definitely conflict of interest and it perhaps was even illegal. This is a true story of how a small, 0.25-mill levy for a private organization got totally out of hand and very expensive eight years later. Our government at work!
A brief history of how we got our own Bloomfield Township Senior Services and its budget and future.
For 30 years or so, seniors in the Bloomfield Hills Schools district met in a school building and made many friends and filled their days with activities, adventures, and volunteer jobs. They were self-supporting with donations, dues, fundraising and grant money. The township donated a yearly amount (varied: $10,000) to this organization since township residents made up a large part of the district. The township also apparently provided them a bus for their travels and other benefits. Their 2004 budget was approx. $300,000. They were known as The Mature Minglers and later as GBSA, Greater Bloomfield Senior Association.
Since township residents also live in the Birmingham School District and they had a senior group that met in their school district, the township made donations to them as well. However, they did not get a bus for travel. They also were self-supporting with a budget around $300,000. That senior organization was called BASCC. It still operates in the Birmingham School District. However, it no longer receives donations from the township, even though there are many township residents that do live in the Birmingham School District.
Apparently the Avondale and Pontiac school districts didn't have a senior association or they just never requested a donation from the township. Township senior residents in those school district were on their own in 2004.
Flashback to May 2004
The GBSA made a pitch to the township board of trustees to put 0.25 mills on a ballot issue for their organization and they will create and expand senior services. That money would raise about $800,000. A nice, easy increase from their current $300,000 self-supporting budget.
One problem: they served the Bloomfield Hills SCHOOL community and that involved families from other municipalities. GBSA was only soliciting funds from Bloomfield Township. No other communities were being asked for TAX money.
Second problem: two members of the GBSA strategic planning committee that requested this millage as the solution to their funding needs were also two members of the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees. The millage proposal was presented to the board and then the board voted. Those two trustees had a major conflict of interest, but voted none the less.
Third problem: There was no public hearing of this idea, the ballot language was approved and placed on the August 2004 ballot. All done and recorded in the official printed minutes. There were people in attendance of the meeting. I will assume they must have known the presentation by GBSA leadership was going to happen.
Here are the board of trustee and study session minutes from May 2004. It is the entire public record of all the discussions on the record for this ballot issue. see: pp. 176-180 [PDF] JANUARY 12 2004_AUGUST 23 2004.pdf
Fourth problem: The Board of Trustees "forgot" to tell the public that the issue was on the August 2004 ballot. Literally. The public was not notified of the ballot question either in the township newsletter, website or by US Mail. This is why I believe the millage may be illegal. This was a real "stealth" election. It wasn't until the winter newsletter of 2005 that most of the public may have learned of the millage. Even today, this millage is not found on your tax bill as an itemized millage collected. It expires in 2013 after it's ten-year term. Here are the newsletters sent to the township taxpayers.
- The Spring 2004 newsletter shows NO mention of this senior services 0.25-mill ballot question.
- The Summer 2004 newsletter shows mention of all ballot issues EXCEPT senior services.
- The Fall 2004 newsletter says nothing about the Aug. 2004 ballot issues.
- The Winter 2005 newsletter finally, but briefly mentions the Senior Services 0.25 millage that passed in August 2004.
Fifth Problem: That 2004 ballot question asked for a 0.25-mill dedicated millage for creating and expanding senior services in the township by the GBSA. The GBSA is a non-profit or private organization. After the millage was approved, the GBSA senior group continued to service the SCHOOL community (and all the families in the other municipalities) and failed in many respects to engage the rest of the Bloomfield Township senior citizens in the Birmingham, Avondale and Pontiac school districts into their association. The GBSA operated on TAX money from one government while servicing other non-residents for free. The SCHOOL district put the GBSA programs and trip announcements in the SCHOOL newsletter, that the other township residents in the other three school districts did not receive.
Sixth Problem: The GBSA eventually was absorbed by township government years later and was deemed a new department. No hiring or applications needed for new employees. The former GBSA personnel became the township employees and now on government wages, benefits and pensions. Did those benefits start in 2004? Even the "advisory board" was former GBSA members. The travel bus continued with the old group name on its side. Township seniors from the Birmingham, Avondale and Pontiac school districts were basically outsiders but not excluded. Information on the senior program was not easily found or given. Non-resident seniors from BHSD continued to participate in all activities as they were notified through the school papers.
Seventh Problem: Eventually, the senior group and the township leadership convinced the taxpayers that the seniors "deserved" a better building after having just an elementary building for the past 30 years...even though they were NOT part of this government during all those years. A new senior center building was approved for this formerly non-profit, school related senior organizaton. More tax money for building bonds.
Fast Forward to Today
Non-residents continue to attend the senior service programs. This senior group is now known as the Bloomfield Township Senior Services (BTSS). The department is funded by a dedicated millage, grants, and fees. There are 130 non-residents that were given resident status for $100 a year. Other non-residents may attend if they pay $2-$5 more per class, event, trip than the residents. Non-residents are not responsible for the millage or the building bond.
That "partnership" and "small" 0.25-mill millage request from a self-supporting $300,000 year senior group operating out of a school building in 2004 is now a government department known as BTSS that in 2012-2013 has:
- The dedicated millage - about $800,000.
- PLUS a specialized senior building with all its maintenance costs/utilities.
- PLUS the building bond payments for another 20 years.
- PLUS transportation: vehicle purchase/fuel/driver/insurance/maintenance.
- PLUS fees for participation to raise general revenue or pay for specific benefit such as ticket price or bus ride or Adult Day Service.
- PLUS wages,benefits and pensions to some of the same people that suggested that "partnership" in 2004.
- A 2012-2013 budget of $1,373,000, not counting bonds and more.
How this true story continues - is up to the voters. The millage expires in 2013. The bond issue for the building continues for 20 years. I suggest this building becomes a community resource for all ages to enjoy. The under 50 population should like that since they do pay all bonds and taxes, too.
Maybe if we limited the services to just township taxpayers, we might discover that some of the programs or travel trips are not needed. I'm sure it is a full-time job to plan that many trips. We should not be a travel agency. I also don't think local government should be responsible for Adult Day Care. What do you think?
The 2012-2013 budget will be approved March 12 at 7 pm. While the township numbers say the budget is balanced....I say the township is over budget in many departments because they need MORE revenue than what was approved in the dedicated millages.
It is employee wages, benefits and pensions that are taking township department budgets beyond the dedicated millage figures. Seeking more revenue from the township general fund, or fees for programs and services or doing work for other communities for fees is not the right way to say "balanced."