June 20, 2012 - Atlas Twp.-A growing cost for police protection coupled with a slide in taxable home values could soon cost township residents.
About a year ago township officials established a police funding advisory committee comprised of nine area residents to study not only the funding needs for law enforcement, but also maintaining sufficient levels of protection necessary to keep the community safe.
On Monday night the committee presented a 44-page report to the board that detailed cost anaylsis, types of 9-1-1 calls and proposals for the board of trustees to consider. The group also met with a Michigan State Police representative and contacted other municipalities including Davison and Grand Blanc townships to determine if combined coverge would be an option.
The township established a contract with the the Genesee County Sheriff's Office about 13 years ago, funded by 1 mill from area property owners. Funding for the deputies was increased in 2005 by a special assessment of $50 for every improved lot and $25 for unimproved lots, which expired in 2010. In August 2010, by a 4-1 vote, the township board reapproved a special assessment of $50 for improved parcels and $25 for unimproved parcels. Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones voted no.
However, the special assessment was recently challenged by a township resi-dent and it was determined following a Michigan Tax Tribunal decision that it was an error for the special assessment board to approve an assessment based on a flat fee per parcel. Rather, the special assessment should have been based on a taxable value.
The current two-year sheriff's contract, costing taxpayers $538,653 for 12 months, includes four deputies, same as in prior years, along with funding for a part-time detective-sergeant split between Fenton and Atlas townships. The price was reduced by $6,437 from the 2011 contract.
Despite the decrease in costs, the township is still about $100,000 short per year for the contract. The 1 mill had generated about $330,000 while the special assessment produces $162,679 per year. It is estimated the 1 mill will now only produce about $280,000 in 2012 due to sagging property values.
The cost for the Genesee County Sheriff's Department has risen from $432,205 in 2007 to $538,653 in 2012, an increase of $106,448.
Jon Sheerin, advisory member and former sheriff's deputy, presented the report at Monday's meeting. Sheerin suggested that while staying with the Genesee County Sheriff's Department may not be the least expensive route, the community has been happy with the service.
"The best solution for the township, in my opinion, is make the millage request,"said Sheerin. "The ballot language is going to be the key issue—it could be very confusing for voters. If we put the millage on the ballot and it does not pass then we would have to reduce police coverage. Granted, we don't have a lot of crime in the township and we're at a minimum protection right now. The crime we do have, for the most part, has been operation of large crime rings that break into homes in rural areas when residents are gone."
Still, there are few other options for police coverage, added Sheerin.
"If we have our own police the liability issues are staggering. Moreover, the Michigan State Police doesn't issue contracts," he said. "Davison Township gave the committee about the same deal that Genesee County Sheriff's Department did, while Grand Blanc Township did not respond. Still some communities with low populations rely on the Michigan State Police to respond to calls. Consider, too, that the governor made it clear consolidating services where possible is the way to go."
Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones said the board will discuss the proposals.
"Right now police funding is good through 2012," she said. "It would make sense to put the issue on the November ballot with the presidential election. It's less expensive for the township to share the election."
The police funding advisory committee provided three proposals for the board of trustees to consider:
n Maintain current Genesee County Sheriff's coverage for 2012-13. Replace current 1 mill and $50/$25 special assessment with an equivalent millage of 1.6192 mills, plus an Atlas Township general fund supplement for the balance.
n Maintain current Genesee County Sheriff's coverage for 2012-13 based on a capped cost of $538,653. Any excess costs must be reduced by corresponding cuts in manpower, hours or other costs which are acceptable to both parties. Michigan State Police to provide coverage for hours not covered by the sheriff's department.
n Maintain current Genesee County Sheriff's coverage for the 2012-13 year and replace the current 1 mill along with the $50/$25 special assessment and township general fund supplement with a millage not to exceed 2.1 mills. The existing millage and $50/$25 special assessment is the equivalent of 1.6192 mills for a maximum increase of .4808.