August 15, 2012 - When Oxford Township voters trek to the polls for the November election, they'll be asked to approve a two-year, 1-mill property tax increase for police protection.
Last week, the township board voted 4-2 to approve ballot language for the proposal.
If approved by voters, the levy would begin with the December 2012 tax bill and end with the December 2013 bill. It's estimated the tax hike would generate an additional $576,482 for the first year.
The extra revenue would allow the township to add up to two officers in order to bring staffing levels back to what they were in 2010 and provide a financial cushion in the police budget's fund balance going forward.
This tax increase would not be levied against or voted on by village property owners, who pay their own tax – a total of 7.56 mills – to support their own police/dispatch services.
Township residents outside the village currently pay 2.9152 mills for contracted police services provided by the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.
Officials are hoping to have as much luck as many other communities did during the Aug. 7 primary election. Last week, voters in 12 out of 13 Oakland County municipalities approved millage renewals and additional taxes for their public safety departments.
Not everyone on the township board was happy about the requested amount.
"The last time we had this up for a vote . . . it got turned down," said Supervisor Bill Dunn. "All of the sudden, we're going to ask for more? I think we're asking for a big fat no."
Dunn was referring to the fact that back in November 2010, township voters turned down a five-year, 0.75-mill police tax increase by a margin of just two votes – 2,886 to 2,884.
"If it was turned down at 0.75 mill, we've got a lot of nerve asking for more," Dunn said.
But Trustee Mike Spisz pointed out that last time, the township was asking for two millages – the proposed 0.75-mill increase, plus a 2.9152-mill tax renewal, the latter of which was approved by voters 4,045 to 1,752.
Spisz also pointed out that this increase is needed because the contracted sheriff's staffing levels are "very low."
"We have 13 officers that police this township, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he explained. "That's two to three cars on the road at any one time. That's it – for the whole township. To me, that doesn't seem like a lot."
"But to me, it seems like enough," replied Trustee Sue Bellairs.
Right now, the sheriff's substation is staffed by a sergeant who's in command, a detective and 11 road patrol deputies.
Those 13 officers serve a township population of 17,090 residents, not including the village.
That staffing is fairly low when one considers that back when the sheriff's department started policing Oxford in 2000, it utilized 11 officers to cover a population of 12,467 residents, again not including the village.
Over the years, the substation's staffing has fluctuated.
The high point was when it had 17 officers in 2005.
For six out of the 13 years that the sheriff's department has been patrolling here, the substation was staffed with 15 officers. That staffing level existed from 2006-10.
If this millage increase is approved, the substation would be able to bring back one to two officers.
"We took one off of midnights," Dunn noted. "I'm pretty sure we'd be able to put one back (on that shift) . . . I believe this will bring back a couple people."
In addition to regaining a midnight shift deputy, substation commander Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson indicated he would like to add a detective who deals exclusively with crimes involving youth as either perpetrators, victims or both. These cases are growing in number and time-consuming to deal with, he said.
Besides bringing back personnel, the additional revenue would also help offset 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 revenues.
By Dec. 31, 2014, the total police fund balance will be an estimated $9,956, which is not enough to balance the budget in future years considering previous dips into the reserves have been in the six-figure range.
"It's basically going to give us a little bit of money in our savings rather than running a deficit after 2014," Dunn said.
Despite all this, some board members still felt 1 mill is simply too much to ask.
Like Dunn, Ferrari believes it's wrong to ask voters for 1 mill when they've already turned down 0.75 mill.
"To me, it's kind of not right to go back and ask them for more money," he said.
Ferrari also didn't feel it was right to ask for 0.75 mill again because the voters already turned that amount down.
"I don't want to be one of those taxing units that continues putting the same issue in front of voters until they vote for it," he said. "The library millage just failed yesterday. Regardless of what we feel, if our voters don't feel it's the best way to do it, why are we going to put the same thing out there?"
"I don't believe in going for more. I don't believe in going for the same (amount)," Ferrari noted.
Ferrari suggested asking for 0.5 mill or placing two 0.5-mill questions on the ballot, that way voters could vote for neither, one or both.
"I think by going for 1 mill, you're asking for a no-vote because they turned us down at 0.75 (mill)," he said.
Spisz later explained to this reporter that the 1-mill request is designed to actually meet both the police staffing and financial needs whereas the 0.75-mill request from two years ago was really the result of a compromise amongst township board members.
Following the discussion at the board meeting, a series of motions was made.
A motion for a 0.5-mill request was made and failed in a 3-3 tie. A motion for a 1-mill request was made and again failed in a 3-3 tie.
Finally, Dunn, who was still opposed to the idea of a 1-mill request, made a motion for that amount "in order to get something on the ballot." That passed 4-2.
Spisz noted if the voters say no again, then the township board will make adjustments to the current staffing level in order to meet the available budget.
"That's what we'll have to do," he 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.