Voters this November could be deciding on a proposed change to the city's minimum staffing levels for police, in addition to a ballot proposal that would ,
Discussion between Dearborn City Council and Mayor Jack O'Reilly at a meeting held Monday at suggested that the ballot proposal is a very real possibility, despite suggestions earlier this year that it was not.
O'Reilly that he wasn't considering the move, due mainly to the fact that he didn't think voters would support it.
“I’m not looking at (lowering minimum staffing requirements) and the reason is, I’m a realist,” he told Dearborn Patch then. “I’m not going to go out and ask people to vote to have less police officers.”
But members of City Council and residents have suggested cutting public safety funding during budget talks.
"I have a hard time addressing millage without first addressing minimum staffing," Councilman Robert Abraham said at Monday's meeting.
O'Reilly pointed to legislation that just passed the Michigan Senate as proof that minimum staffing is no longer seen as a necessity. The bill, SB 485, would make it illegal for cities to put minimum staffing requirements in place for any city jobs.
The legislation would apply only to cities without provisions already in place, but O'Reilly said he thought it added weight to Dearborn's pending ballot initiative.
“It looks very much like this will pass," he said. "It doesn’t affect us, but it frames the discussion.”
The Dearborn Police Department's minimum staffing level used to be 190 until 2004, when the issue went before voters. Residents and City Council at that time approved the jump to 205 officers.
In the past few years, the department has stayed under that number by their own accord. However, the city still has to budget for the full 205–even if they don't hire to that level.
Discussions of a ballot proposal to bring the number back down–or eliminate minimum staffing requirements completely–are still very vague. No decisions have been made yet as to what the ballot measure might look like, or if it will even go forward at all.
But Council President Tom Tafelski joined other voices on Monday saying that the most important factor is how many officers there are on the street, and what the response time is for police calls.
"I don’t think anyone wants to see police or fire not respond," he said. "We just can’t afford (all of them)."
The issue is tentatively set to be discussed again on July 12, during which time City Council will also continue discussions about other ballot proposals. Details about the meeting have not been confirmed, but it will be open to the public.