November 28, 2012 - Beginning in 2013, Oxford Township will be protected by two more police officers thanks to a millage increase approved by voters earlier this month.
Last week, the township board voted 5-2 to add a deputy and patrol investigator to the Oakland County Sheriff's substation as part of a new three-year contract with the county law enforcement agency, beginning Jan. 1, 2013 and expiring Dec. 31, 2015.
The contract price starts out at $1.93 million next year, increases to $1.96 million in 2014 and finishes at $2 million in the final year. It must still be approved by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.
Oxford's additional deputy will be assigned to the midnight shift (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.) while the new patrol investigator will be used to deal with all youth-related incidents and crimes in the township.
"I really am supporting this," said Trustee Jack Curtis. "We have more reactive policing in our community than proactive."
These additions will increase the substation's staffing level to 15 officers, which is what it was in 2010, prior to the township board making some budget cuts due to shrinking tax revenues from declining property values. The substation will now be staffed by one sergeant (who serves as commander), two patrol investigators and 12 deputies.
Township officials were able to bring two officers back thanks to a two-year, 1-mill tax increase which the voters approved 4,191 to 4,044 in the Nov. 6 general election. The levy begins with the December 2012 tax bill and is expected to generate $576,482 with its first collection. Township voters will now pay a total of 3.9152 mills for police protection.
According to the sheriff's contract prices for 2013, the additional deputy will cost the township $126,594 and the patrol investigator has a price tag of $130,608. The deputy's cost is scheduled to increase to $128,705 in 2014 and $130,888 in 2015. Likewise, the patrol investigator's cost is slated to increase to $132,996 in 2014 and $135,408 in 2015.
These costs include wages, fringe benefits, uniforms, equipment, training and vehicles.
The rest of the revenue from this 1-mill increase will be used help the police budget maintain a stable fund balance (i.e. reserves) through the end of 2015. Without it, the township was facing the prospect of either running the fund balance down to practically nothing or cutting two officers to keep it healthy.
Treasurer Joe Ferrari opposed adding two officers right away because he's concerned about the possibility of the state cutting a major source of property tax revenue.
"I would consider adding two deputies if we knew what the state Legislature was going to do with the personal property tax," he said. "Are they going to eliminate it? Are they going to eliminate all personal property including utility personal property? We don't know if any lost revenue will be replaced."
Ferrari indicated he'd feel "more comfortable" adding one officer "for sure" at this time, then "possibly revisiting" the issue once a decision's been made about the fate of personal property taxes.
"Supposedly it will be taken up (during) the lame-duck session within the next week," he said.
"I would rather do the opposite," said Supervisor Bill Dunn. "I'd rather add it now and if we get in a situation (where we need to cut one), we can always call down to Pontiac and say, 'We just ain't got the money.'"
The supervisor noted it could be done with a simple phone call.
Considering the contract wouldn't expire until the end of 2015, Trustee Buck Cryderman expressed his concern over whether or not the township could alter it like that.
"There's outs in the contract," Dunn said. "They're going to understand. If you're going to run a deficit, they're not going to make you keep somebody. I'm sure of that."
Bellairs agreed with Ferrari.
"I think that we have time to wait a little bit and add that person when we know how things are going," she said.
Dunn noted "the only problem" is it's been reported in local newspapers for "almost a year" that if township voters approved the millage increase, two officers would be added.
"Now, you're going to renege on that. I don't think it's right," the supervisor said. "It's been said in numerous meetings."
Dunn feared if the township doesn't add two officers as promised, the public won't be supportive of future millage proposals because folks are going to wonder "is someone pulling our leg just to get the vote?"
"If the legislature would leave personal property alone, I'd have no problem with (adding two officers)," Ferrari replied.
Curtis favored adding them now.
"If it happens that the personal property tax goes away . . . there (are) opt-out provisions (in the sheriff's contract)," he said.
Dunn believes if the state does decide to eliminate the personal property tax, it will "come up with something to replace it."
"They just can't jerk (it away). You know how many places would go under in this state? The whole state would fold up," he said.
Cryderman asked if the township can request that one of these additional cops can be a school liaison officer.
Dunn explained that Oxford Schools used to have a liaison officer. In the past, the township and school district did a 50/50 split for nine months of this officer's cost, then the township picked up 100 percent of the tab for the three summer months.
But the district cut its funding for it around 2003 and the position was eliminated as the township did not wish to pay 100 percent for a full year. There's been no school liaison officer since that time.
"When the school board stopped paying for the school liaison years ago, it doesn't mean the work product stopped," said Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson, commander of the Oxford substation. "The work product is still there. If anything it's growing because the community is growing. These are very, very labor intensive (cases). It's a much needed thing."
That why Patterson requested the addition of a patrol investigator to handle all youth-related issues.
It should be noted that in recent years, the district was willing to share the cost of a liaison officer with the township again and had even budgeted $50,000 for the position as part of its 2010-11 fiscal year. However, the township board decided it could not afford to share the cost at that time.
Oxford Schools currently has its own private security personnel for which it pays the entire cost.
Curtis indicated he's talked with Superintendent Dr. William Skilling and he's open to the idea of having a school liaison officer again, but "he didn't commit to it."
"(Skilling) said he was interested in open communications with the board (when it comes to) either participating in or working with the sheriff for a liaison," he said.
Ferrari wanted to see the township add the midnight deputy now, then open up a dialogue with the district about possibly reinstituting the school liaison position and sharing the cost.
"If they can help contribute to that cost, it will make it a lot easier for our budget," the treasurer said. A school liaison officer would cost $126,594 for next year.
Ferrari suggested that Dunn begin discussions with Skilling.
"I think if the school wants to enter into that discussion, he (Skilling) comes to this meeting here," Dunn replied.
It was noted that both Dunn and Patterson recently met with school officials to discuss ways to increase cooperation between the district and sheriff's department.
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.