WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Public safety is a top concern for people living and working in Wyoming, which is why city leaders are hoping the community will support the public safety millage come Tuesday.
“What our hope is, is that our residents will see this millage as a way to increase public safety so that we have a safer community,” Wyoming Mayor Kent Vanderwood told News 8.
If approved, the millage would generate an additional $4 million in revenue dedicated to the Wyoming Public Safety Department. Residents shot down instituting an income tax last year which aimed to help fund the addition of 27 firefighter positions. Vanderwood hopes the millage is a better alternative to addressing the need.
“Nobody’s questioning the need for more public safety. We just hope this is the way that they’ll see to fund it,” he said. “This money will be 100% for police, fire and first responders.”
Despite having grown by 10% since the year 2000, Wyoming is operating with fewer staff in the public safety department than it did 23 years ago.
“We have a shortage in our fire department and our police department in terms of officers and firefighters,” Vanderwood explained.
Wyoming currently has 1.3 officers per 1,000 residents. The national average is 2.4. On the fire side, there are .35 firefighters per 1,000 people, a number that’s significantly lower than surrounding agencies, yet Wyoming has one of the highest rates of calls per firefighter.
“We’re just at a point where our calls for service require that we are staffed at a level similar to agencies around us,” Wyoming Public Safety Chief Kimberly Koster said. “Our firefighters provide a lot of services in the community. They respond to accidents where there’s injuries, to medical emergencies, obviously structure fires and just a host of other emergencies that occur. So it’s really important that we’re able to do that in a really efficient and fast manner.”
The millage would allow the city to hire six additional firefighters and utilize all four fire stations, including the Division Street station which is not currently operational.
“If we could open up that station, we could decrease the response times over there to approximately four minutes, which is our goal. Right now, we’re sitting at about six,” the chief said.
Violent crimes have also continued to remain high over the past several years. In 2020, there were eight homicides. That number dropped to two in 2021 but jumped back up to eight in 2022. There have already been four homicides in the city so far this year.
Koster said the millage would allow for the addition of four police officers and provide funding for the department to continue focusing on community policing and crime prevention.
“(Community policing) has been a hallmark of our agency for the last couple of decades,” Koster said. “Really partnering with not only our residents, our business owners, our schools, our churches, but with all other partners like Network 180, the homeless coalitions and some of the other partners that help us to prevent crime or to help people.”
She continued: “We received a COPS grant at the end of 2021, which allowed us to add six additional community policing officers in the afternoon hours and that has just been a real game changer for us. This millage would allow funding for those positions to continue beyond the three years that the grant is for.”
Traffic enforcement, Koster said, would be another big focus.
“It’s one of the No. 1 complaints that we receive from our residents and so we really want to be able to be responsive to that,” Koster said.
So what exactly would this mean for taxpayers? If approved at a rate of 1.5 mills, a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would cost homeowners an additional $150 per year.
The millage would generate $4 million and would end after 2027.
As with any millage, Koster said she understands people want to make sure they understand where their money is going and that municipalities are being good stewards.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that people question how the money is going to be used,” she said. “I would encourage them to contact the city if they have questions. We are more than happy to provide answers to those.”
The city will host its final public meeting and community open house to provide more information about the ballot proposal on Thursday at the Wyoming Police Department at 2300 DeHoop Avenue SW. You can read more about the ballot proposal and calculate how it would impact your tax payments on the city’s website.