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Council holds the line on village tax rate

Albensi wants dispatch options explored, employees to pay more for health insurance

May 30, 2012 - Good news for Oxford Village residents – they will not face a millage increase when they receive their property tax bills this summer.

Last week, council voted 4-0 to keep the rate at 10.62 mills, which equals $10.62 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.

The vote was in conjunction with council's approval of a $6.78 million budget – of which $1.936 million is general fund – for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which commences July 1.

Although Councilman Elgin Nichols was pleased the village was able to approve a balanced budget without raising property taxes, he believes "we can go a lot further."

"This is only one step," he said. "I think probably, if we do this right, we should be able to decrease (the) millage, make it more affordable."

A tax cut would "make more money available, so (village residents) can buy things for themselves and their family or just exist," in Elgin's view.

"Just because we're setting the millage rate and just because we're setting a budget doesn't mean that we don't have to continue to look for ways to save the taxpayers money," noted village President Tom Benner. "It's an ongoing process."

Village Manager Joe Young originally proposed increasing the tax rate to 11.12 mills, however, council made it clear that it wasn't interested in raising it.

Benner admitted that he was "teetering back and forth" on the proposed increase. He indicated he was considering it due to the lack of staffing in the village office, which has undergone personnel cuts in recent years.

However, the fact that the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) owes the village nearly $147,000 – due to the "errors of both sides" – made the necessity of a tax increase a moot point to Benner. (See related story on Page B-1.)

"I'm glad that I don't have to even think about (a tax increase)," he said.

Included in the village's adopted $6.78 million budget is $511,753 for DDA operations; $641,079 for police; $371,082 for dispatch services; $92,473 for the Department of Public Works; $1.16 million for the sewer fund; $1.106 for the water fund; and a combined $468,117 for streets.

The part of the budget that concerned Councilman Tony Albensi the most was the $371,082 for dispatch services, which includes a projected $75,000 for upgrades to the communications system.

Of that $75,000 earmark, $50,000 is from a previous legal settlement with the township and $6,000 is from a grant, Young said.

The village dispatch center is operated through the police department and housed in the station on W. Burdick St. It handles all village police calls, plus all fire/EMS calls in both the village and township.

"I know that I may be a lone fish swimming upstream, but it needs to be discussed," Albensi said. "Our dispatch budget is roughly $250,000 to $300,000 a year . . . We need to continue to discuss what we're going to do with that."

Albensi indicated he wants council to review the figures behind alternatives such as sharing communications services with the Lake Orion Village Police and contracting with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department for dispatch.

"County dispatch would cost us about $30,000 a year," he noted.

"I understand that I may be the lone vote or the lone person advocating for even talking about that, (but) I really think we need to discuss that," Albensi said. "That is a huge part of our budget, I mean huge."

"I understand and appreciate why certain members of this council aren't even willing to consider outside dispatch (services), but it needs to be considered because it's roughly $250,000 to $300,000 a year (for the village) as opposed to (approximately) $30,000 a year (for Oakland County)."

Young noted the village has spent the last two years talking with Lake Orion about sharing dispatch services.

"We're now to a point that it's recognized that yes, we need to consolidate and take the steps to do that," the manager said. "It's not a simple process to consolidate dispatches . . . There's a lot of details to work out.

"We are in the process of gathering specific details of how (the consolidation could be accomplished) and what would be involved and what the savings would be."

Once those "technical details" are finalized, they will be presented to the Oxford and Lake Orion village councils for consideration, according to Young.

DDA Board Member Anna Taylor noted how Birmingham and Beverly Hills just signed an agreement to consolidate their dispatch services and it's going to save Birmingham about $278,000 per year.

Albensi also made it a point that he's still not pleased with the amount village employees are paying as their contribution for their health insurance coverage. Each employee pays $300 annually.

"It's ridiculous," he said. "It's not that I want to put the burden of health insurance on employees, (but in the private sector) I pay well over $300 a month for my health insurance."

"The public sector is far behind (the private sector) when it comes to legacy costs, health insurance costs, pension costs, even wages sometimes," Albensi continued. "Just the administrative part of the (village) budget is like 60-some percent of our general fund. That's huge."

Resident Sue Bossardet, a former village president and councilwoman, also expressed her concern about the benefits received by village employees. "Some of the benefits have to be looked at," she said. "It's too costly."

Bossardet was particularly bothered by the fact that employees who choose not to take health insurance through the village are given in-lieu-of cash payments. "The private sector doesn't offer that," she said.

According to Young, there are currently three village employees who opt-out of the municipality's health insurance plan, for which they each receive $6,585 annually. That amount equals 80 percent of the rate the village pays to cover a single person.

DDA Director Madonna Van Fossen proposed that she be paid an extra $11,000 a year to purchase her own health insurance as opposed to continuing to go through the village, which currently costs the municipality $18,000 annually to cover her and her family.

"People have to realize that the Village of Oxford is not a for-profit company, organization, whatever you want to call it," Bossardet noted. "It's taxpayer dollars that you're using."

If village employees "want all those benefits," Bossardet said they "need to go get another job (with) a for-profit organization" because the taxpayers can't afford it.

"We have a lot of senior citizens in this community that are operating on a very limited income and it is not fair that people that are employed (by) or work for the Village of Oxford are expecting this," 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.
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