Pittsfield Township officials say they need to almost double their existing public safety millage to maintain services. Financial data shows that the Department of Public Safety’s total payroll has increased from $4.31 million in 2008 to $4.86 million in 2010 — a 12.6 percent increase.

Pittsfield Township is requesting an increase in its public safety millage from 1.00 to 1.95 mills for 10 years from 2012 to 2021. The vote is Tuesday.

Supervisor Mandy Grewal said she has no qualms about paying employees “walking into a burning building” a decent salary. She said the township’s firefighters were in the lowest 25 percentile in terms of base salary in a compensation study done by the township.

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Pittsfield Township’s millage is common among municipalities that ask for separate funding for police and fire expenses.

Jack McHugh, a legislative analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said public safety millages are like used car dealers who try to make you pay extra for an engine after you bought the car.

“Fire and police are not some ‘optional extra,’” McHugh said. “They are the core services voters expect from municipal governments. It’s a gimmick they can use to manipulate voters.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential put in a Freedom of Information Act request to Pittsfield Township for salary information from 2008 to 2010. The information showed a rising payroll, in part due to what Pittsfield Township said were low salaries for its firefighters.

To remedy that, Pittsfield Township agreed to salary increases that would give across-the-board raises to firefighters from 2009 to 2013. For example, starting firefighters’ salaries would go from $38,000 to $52,000 in a four-year window ending in 2013. According to township salary documents, 23 of the township’s 256 employees belong to the firefighters’ union as of 2010. DPS Chief Matt Harshberger said in an email that 12 firefighters were eligible for the across-the-board increases.

But unionized public safety employees often make much more than their base salary, due to overtime and other compensation enhancements. A dozen members of the Pittsfield Township firefighters’ union made $10,000 or more in overtime in 2010, with the highest at $20,433.

Harshberger said his department has fewer employees in 2011 than it did in the previous year. He wrote that the township has 23 full-time firefighters and five on-call firefighters. He said there are 72 full-time employees and 81 total employees in DPS.

Overall, Pittsfield Township has reduced the total number of employees in all departments from 307 to 256 from 2008 to 2010, but has seen total payroll increase from $7.03 million to $7.59 million. Part of that is because overtime increased 76 percent from $215,310 in 2008 to $379,877 in 2010.

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