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Twp. takes aim at police funding

'The board does not want to raise millages, so we are going to look at cutting police officers,' Kathy Thurman, township supervisor

September 12, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- The township board is divided on whether to increase the police millage to the full amount that can be levied.

The reluctance to raise taxes isn't surprising, but Supervisor Kathy Thurman, as well as Oakland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Pete Burkett both warn that without the increase, this township will lose yet another police officer, and quite possibly the substation located within it.

"The board does not want to raise millages, so we are going to look at cutting police officers," said Supervisor Kathy Thurman.

"If we cut another deputy, we will be below the minimum staffing allowed for safety," said Burkett, commander of the Brandon substation. "In Brandon, the minimum is two deputies per patrol shift for the safety of the deputies and the citizens. If we aren't sustaining minimum staffing, we may not be able to have a substation here."

The board will have public hearing for truth-in-taxation and set millage rates during their next board meeting, set for 7 p.m., this Monday, Sept. 17, at the township offices, 395 Mill St.

"We have not raised the mills to the maximum allowed, which was voted on previously by the electorate," Thurman said. "If we were to levy the full mills, we would be able to realize another $117,000 in the police budget per year. We are going to vote (on raising it to the maximum allowable millage), but it appears the board does not favor it, even though the voters approved. If we don't levy the full mills now, we will be looking at asking the voters for a millage increase in 2014."

In 1992, voters approved 4 mills for police coverage, but that rate was reduced due to the Headlee Amendment to 2.8505. In 1996, voters approved an additional police millage of .7689, but the Headlee Amendment reduced that to .6781. Currently, the maximum amount that could be levied would be 3.5286 mills. However, the township is only levying 3.25. Levying the full police millage would be an increase of $28 per year in taxes for a home valued at $200,000, said Thurman, who noted that in the majority of the years since 1996, the full millage was not levied, because the funds weren't necessary to sustain the police force.

The township board approved a 1-year contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office last November which provided for 11.5 deputies, at a cost of roughly $1.4 million. Township officials cut police staff by three and a half positions in 2010 due to budget concerns. The Brandon School Board brought back the school liaison officer using their own funding, but he is assigned strictly to the schools and does not do road patrol. Another deputy is shared with Independence Township on the midnight shift.

"I don't think it is appropriate to raise any millage before we do other cuts that need to be taken and we should have done years ago," said Treasurer Terry Beltramo. "Based on our financial condition right now, eventually we will need to raise the millage and you will see millages for fire going up also. I won't be on the board when that happens, but I don't believe it will be too long before both the fire and police budgets will go negative."

Currently, the board plans to transfer $100,000 from the general fund to the police budget for 2013 and another $100,000 in 2014, Thurman said, because there is not enough funding in the police budget to pay for the current level of police service. Even with the transfer, she expects the police fund to come up short by 2014 by about $140,000 per year.

Beltramo noted that some of the boardmembers want to increase the police millage to the maximum allowable now and when the millage comes up for renewal, ask for an increase.

"I don't think people will buy back-to-back jumps, especially if we are sitting here not taking any cuts ourselves," he said. "Taxes will probably have to go up, but I'm holding off because people can't afford it now. You can't do it piecemeal. If we went for an increase now and asked for more later, I don't think we'd pass it."

A township fiscal priorities survey returned by more than 800 respondents in 2010 found an overwhelming majority believe that police service is "very important" and 558 respondents disagreed that the police force should be reduced, with only 209 supportive of a decrease in officers. However, respondents were almost evenly split on paying an additional $28 per year in taxes to keep the level of law enforcement unchanged, with 391 favoring an increase in the millage and 382 disapproving.

Beltramo said sharing deputies with another township, or dispatching deputies to Brandon from a substation located in a community such as Oxford or Independence could be an advantage.

Burkett said without a substation in this community for faster response times, an August incident here could have ended much differently, perhaps horrifically like the Sept. 9 West Bloomfield tragedy in which a barricaded gunman killed Police Officer Patrick O'Rourke.

In the recent Brandon incident, township resident James Graves was walking the streets in his neighborhood firing a gun and assaulted two people before Brandon deputies quickly arrived on the scene, safely taking Graves into custody before he could escape back into his home, where deputies later found nearly 20 weapons.

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