March 21, 2012 - Later this year, Oxford Township residents will be asked to vote on a proposed tax increase that if approved, would restore their police staffing to what it used to be.
Township officials last week voted 3-2 to place a two-year, 1-mill tax increase on the November ballot. If approved, the millage wouldn't be levied until the December 2013 winter tax bill.
The purpose of this proposal is to increase the staffing of the Oakland County Sheriff's substation from 13 to 15 officers by adding a deputy to the midnight shift and a detective who will deal exclusively with crimes involving youths (see related story on Page 8).
This would get the staffing level back to where it was in 2010 before decreasing revenue and budget cuts led to the elimination of two officers.
"(It) is pretty much getting us back to status quo," said Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson, commander of the township substation.
As a result of these staffing reductions, Patterson said the substation has been doing more "reactive" police work, such as responding to calls, as opposed to "proactive" police work, such as patrolling subdivisions and doing traffic enforcement.
"I know right now, we're not at the optimal staffing level, but is it working?" asked Treasurer Joe Ferrari.
"We've held down the fort with the actual dispatch runs," Patterson said. "I've very proud of everybody – the way they've stepped up. If there's a hole somewhere, somebody tries to step up and fill it."
But the substation can't keep operating this way.
"Times are tough and we're trying to make due with what we (have), but you're running on a little bit of luck there, too," Patterson said. "With police work, you don't know what's going to be thrown at you. You're one homicide away or situation away (and) it can get serious."
Patterson noted in police work, the caseload doesn't diminish just because there are less officers on staff. There's still work that needs to be done regardless of manpower issues.
Based on U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2008, Michigan has an average of 1.14 officers for every 1,000 residents. Oxford Township is significantly below that average.
"We're at about 0.76 with the officers that we have right now," Patterson said.
Adding two officers would bring the township's ratio up to 0.88 for every 1,000 residents.
Patterson noted that's still below where the township should be given it has a total population of 17,090. To get up to the state average, the substation would need a total of 19.48 officers.
Despite Patterson's presentation, Ferrari was opposed to asking residents for a tax hike given back in November 2010, they failed, by two votes, a requested five-year, 0.75-mill increase.
"I feel we've already asked for it," he said. "The residents said 'no' and that's their decision. That's the way we, as a society, work."
Ferrari said there are residents who feel like local governments keep putting failed millage proposals in front of them over and over again until they eventually get approved.
"To me, we're guilty of that now," he said. "Our residents said 'no,' whether it's two votes or 300 votes, it was still a no."
Ferrari noted that as a individual resident, he's "probably going to vote yes again" because he understands the need.
"I support it," he said. "But I think us as a body, we have to be respectful of what our residents have already said to us."
Ferrari indicated he would prefer to wait until the current 2.9152-mill police tax expires in December 2014, then request an increase.
Trustee Mike Spisz disagreed. He doesn't believe the township should wait two more years.
"I hear what you're saying Joe, but I think times have changed," he said.
Spisz believes the township board would be "remiss" if it didn't "put something back on the ballot to let the people vote and make a decision themselves."
"If they vote it down again, they vote it down again," he said.
"Then would we bring it up again?" Ferrari asked.
"Maybe. You never know," Spisz replied. "Times could change. You don't know what could happen in that year.
"I would rather let them vote too much than not let them vote enough."
Spisz proposed the 1-mill increase as a way to pay for the additional $270,000-per-year cost of adding two officers to the substation, plus cover the $613,217 drop in the police budget's fund balance that is projected to happen in 2013 and 2014.
Based on current projections, with a staffing level of 13 officers, the police budget will utilize $252,405 of its fund balance in 2013 and $360,812 in 2014, due to declining property tax revenue.
By Dec. 31, 2014, the total police fund balance will be an estimated $9,956.
"We will have no choice at that point, (but) to (ask for) an increase if we want to continue even at the current level," Spisz said.
Ferrari didn't like the idea of asking voters to approve a tax increase that's larger than the one they previously rejected.
"I struggle with asking for 1 mill when the voters already turned down 0.75 (mill)," he said. "I could understand if we asked for half-a-mill . . . If you're going to ask for something, at least ask for less than what we asked for before."
Although she indicated she, too, is opposed to the proposed 1-mill increase, Trustee Sue Bellairs suggested it be on the November ballot as opposed to the August primary ballot because it will yield a larger voter turnout and provide "more of a feel if that's what everybody wants or not."
"I didn't say I wanted it at all, but if you're going to put it on, you should put it on the November ballot," she said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.