Township considers options for police fund
November 02, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
Everyone agrees police protection is important.
Up for debate among the Orion Township Board of Trustees is how it will be paid for in 2012 and beyond.
Its members met last week in a special session to continue discussing options. They also received a proposed budget from Lt. Bruce Naile, in charge of the Oakland County Sheriff's substation here.
The current millage to fund the police fund is up for renewal next year. Unfortunately, even if it passes, there will be a $1 million shortfall to maintain police protection at the current level, board members said.
They seem resigned to the fact that they will have to tap into the township's general fund to make up a portion of the difference, plus make cuts to the level of service provided by the Oakland County Sheriff Department.
During the meeting, they also discussed the option of raising the millage rate for the police fund, or the possibility of establishing a "special assessment district" that would enable the township to establish a separate millage for police protection.
In a memo to the board, Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel said Commerce Township has such a special assessment district, levying an additional two mills on taxpayers.
The idea of such a special assessment did not sit well with other board members, especially when they found out a public hearing would be conducted, but no public vote.
"I'm very reluctant to do this kind of levy on taxpayers without voting on it," said Treasurer Alice Young.
Township Clerk Penny Shults also voiced concern. "This would effectively be raising taxes," she said. "I don't want to do this to people." Added Trustee Neal Porter, "I would only do this as a last resort."
Later in the meeting, Naile presented an initial budget proposal for 2012, featuring a significant number of cuts in various areas. "We're all looking for ways to raise additional revenues for the police fund, as well as make cuts – although there's not much room there," he said.
Naile noted during the meeting that the budget was based on the assumption that the 2012 millage renewal would be passed, with a possible millage increase in subsequent years. Both he and Undersheriff Mike McCabe expressed their hope that the board would focus on next year's budget now and then let voters decide the level of police funding after that.
"I recommended to (Van Tassel) that we at least figure out a way to keep the current levels in 2012," McCabe said. "Then put a millage proposal for future years to the voters and let the people decide if they want to cut or maintain the level of protection."
McCabe said ten percent of the budget was cut this year, equating to three deputies.
The idea of a one-time transfer of $46,000 from the liquor enforcement fund to the general police fund also was discussed. The board approved its lawyer to look into that possibility.
A lengthy discussion also took place regarding taking money from the township's general fund to help cover police protection at current levels for next year. Naile said earlier this year the plan was to take $600,000 from the general fund. This amount was later reduced to $400,000 and then to $100,000.
Young was against this. "We cannot sustain these types of deficits," she said.
Trustee Mark Crane said he appreciated Naile's effort to put "best foot forward" in his proposed budget.
"The original $400,000 transfer from the general budget was out of the question," he said. "I guess $100,000 is more of a measured response, but we're still kicking the can down the road."
Crane acknowledged, however, "When the voters passed the current millage, they assumed a certain level of police protection."
Township resident Burke Cueny suggested taking money from the safety path and fire funds to supplement the police fund. Trustee Mike Flood told him that the safety path millage was exclusively for that purpose. Van Tassel said the fire fund would face a deficit if that was done, or if its millage was not renewed or reduced.
"Our fire department primarily handles medical emergencies," she said. "With our aging population, cuts to the fire fund could lead to disaster."
There also was discussion on the marine patrol services provided by the county on Lake Orion and Voorheis Lake. Young said, while it may be unpopular, given the budget dilemma she thinks if residents on these lakes want the patrol, they should pay for it.
Trustee John Steimel voiced a different opinion, saying that Lake Orion and others like Voorheis are part of the community's identity and everyone here benefits from the patrol's presence. "It's really a small amout of money that I think people would be willing to pay to assure our biggest lakes are patrolled," he said. Porter and trustee Mike Flood agreed.
Supervisor Van Tassel pointed out that this was just a first look at the sheriffs' budget. She offered to take it along with everyone's comments and develop a revised budget for consideration, to be presented as early as this week.
Steimel was concerned with the delay in getting the police fund budget finalized. "I thought we had a budget presented to us tonight," he said. "We're running out of time. Why put it off?"
Van Tassel reminded everyone that an official public hearing on the budget needs to be held if taxes are going to be raised. She also said the 2011 budget was not finalized until Dec. 20 of last year.
The township's next budget workshop meeting is scheduled for Wed., Nov. 2, at 7 p.m.