April 25, 2012 - After much debate, Orion Township residents will only see one proposal for police services on the Aug. 2012 ballot. The proposal will be an increase.
Board members John Steimel (left) and Neal Porter ponder the reports and requests from Oakland County Sheriff Lieutenant Dan Toth (inset) at an April16 Orion Township Board Meeting . Photo by T. Keiser (click for larger version)
"I want to make sure we're prepared for the calls of service and the level of service Orion residents are accustomed too," said Orion Substation Commander, Lt. Dan Toth of Oakland County Sheriff's Office at the April 16 Orion Township Board meeting.
Toth presented the board with two options in addition to the current 1.9832 millage rate. One was an increase of 1.0168 mills and the second was an increase of 1.20 mills.
Toth said if only the current millage rate was renewed it would only fund about 19-20 deputies, which would put them back at 1988 staffing levels when the township was about half the population it is today. Toth noted they lost five officers in 2010 and he would like to reinstate two of the position over the next four years.
"The best economic forecast we get from Oakland County and the state of Michigan leads us to believe we would need about 3 to 3.1 mills for police services in Orion Township to fund just 27 officers," he said. "That is still below our surrounding neighbors that have the same demographics as Orion."
Trustee John Steimel believes it's worth it.
"To me fire and police are two the core values this board should be responsible for," Steimel said.
He noted how the loss of taxable value has hurt the township's revenue. Taxable value dropped about 16 percent between 2010 and 2010 and they budgeted for at least another 11 percent this year.
"I don't think we're quite done yet," he said. "Just that alone means we're trying to maintain what we have and we're taking in less money, which is making it more and more difficult."
Trustee Mike Flood Jr. said the board knew they would be short this year in the police fund due to falling property values, which is why they $278,200 from the general fund for the police fund.
"If we keep the same millage rate we have now in 2014 we're forecasted $1.1 million in the red (negative), that would have to come out of our general fund," Flood said. "Going in to 2015 we would be almost $2.5 million in the red."
Clerk Penny Schults agreed.
"If we don't have an increase in the millage we can't fund it in the general fund," she said. "The money just won't be there."
Schults recommended one question on the ballot include the renewal of 1.9832 mills with an additional 1.0168 mills added, which would bring the total to 3 mills and generate an estimated $3,889,044 for 2013.
Trustee Mark Crane didn't think there should be only one option on the ballot.
"There may be something to be said about throwing the choice back to the voters," he said.
Trustee Neal Porter was against the motion because he didn't agree with both the renewal and the additional millage as one question on the ballot.
"I don't believe in putting all my eggs in one basket," Porter said. "I agree the voters need some input in this and I don't want to make this an all or nothing."
The motion passed on a 4-3 vote. Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassle, Treasurer Alice Young, and Porter voted "no."
"I am in favor of having the police millage," Van Tassle said. "I think it is important we fund the operation so we can provide what the lieutenant has indicated what's necessary in this township, that we have the dollars to add an additional deputy next year and another additional one in 2015."
Young was in favor of the higher millage of 3.182, but wanted the ballot to separate the renewal and the increase.
Crane offered to put the higher millage rate on the ballot in order to give the voters a choice on whether they township will be slightly over or under budget, but not wanting to risk a "catastrophe" if both millages failed, he withdrew his motion.
Resident Don Hickmott who was watching the meeting live from his house, showed up during public comment to voice his opinion on the approved millage rate. Hickmott feels there could be greater efficiencies between Orion and the neighboring townships that also have Oakland County Sheriff Deputies, if they just worked together more.
"I don't think we're going to find those efficiencies unless we push back a little," he said. "If we just roll over and just accept their numbers, they'll be back four years from now looking for even more."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.