January 16, 2013 - The Oxford Village Council has extended an invitation to its counterpart in Lake Orion to conduct a joint, public meeting for the purpose of discussing the possibility of collaborating on police/fire dispatch services in an effort to save money.
"It couldn't hurt to sit down and talk with them," said Councilman Tony Albensi.
Council discussed the issue last week in light of a Dec. 10 decision by the Lake Orion Village Council to authorize its village manager and police chief "to continue investigating Lake Orion and Oxford dispatch collaboration."
"It doesn't appear that they really did anything other than to say, 'Yeah, let's continue to talk about it," Albensi said. "We need to continue to talk about it as well."
"We do need to seriously consider cost-saving measures and (dispatch is) one area that there's significant cost-saving measures to be had," he said.
"I believe the Village of Oxford has been talking about (the idea of collaboration) longer than anybody else around," noted Councilman Dave Bailey.
An analysis of a potential Oxford/Lake Orion dispatch collaboration was conducted last year by the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG).
It concluded that a consolidation of the two villages' dispatch services "appears to be viable and offers the communities over $100,000 in savings from efficiencies."
"I think that we don't need to slam any doors on Lake Orion," said Councilman Elgin Nichols. "We need to keep the communications open."
As part of its 2012-13 budget, which ends June 30, Oxford Village allocated $371,082 for maintaining its own dispatch center through its local police department.
Of that total, $296,082 was budgeted for operations – which includes three full-time and four part-time dispatchers – and $75,000 was for equipment upgrades.
Village residents are currently paying a tax rate of 2.91 mills to fund their local dispatch center. To put that in perspective, the village's total tax rate is 10.62 mills.
The township fire department also helps fund the village dispatch center by paying the municipality $35,020 to dispatch fire/EMS calls.
Although Albensi had no problem discussing the issue with Lake Orion officials, he made it very clear that he doesn't believe Oxford should not limit its dispatch alternatives to collaborating with the village to the south.
"We need to continue to think about it and talk about it. And seriously consider other options and be open-minded to other options," he said.
Another cost-saving option is contracting with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department for dispatch services.
Although the savings of more than $100,000 by collaborating with Lake Orion is significant, based on figures supplied to the Oxford Village Council last August, contracting with the sheriff's department would yield a much greater reduction in expense.
Sheriff's representatives told council they could handle all of Oxford Village's police calls for $27,580 in 2013 and $28,130 in 2014. The cost for handling Oxford's fire/EMS calls would be approximately $31,000 per year, depending on the number of calls. That cost would continue to be paid by the fire department, which is run by the township and funded by both township and village taxpayers.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again, there are significant cost-saving measures to be had if we were to consider other options – very, very significant cost-saving measures," Albensi said.
"I'm not necessarily saying that saving (money) is always the best way to go, but I just ask that this council, the public and everybody (else), please be open-minded about this," he continued. "Let's have a serious discussion about this. We haven't gotten much input from the public, unfortunately."
Whether council chooses to collaborate with Lake Orion or contract with county, it will have to consider the impact on the police union contract.
Collaboration will likely require renegotiation. According to the contract, "It is understood that should a collaboration or agreement with another municipality be considered during the duration of this agreement, the parties agree to negotiate appropriate changes as will allow for such collaboration in an efficient and economical manner."
If council were to contract with the county for dispatch and closing its communications center, according to the police union contract, the village would have to "provide severance benefits for full-time employees for the term of the contract, through June 30, 2017."
Unlike previous police contracts, the current five-year contract does not spell out exactly what those "severance benefits" are, so, according to village attorney Bob Davis, the issue would have to be settled either through negotiations between the union and village or via arbitration.
Albensi believes now is the time for council to discuss the dispatch issue and make a decision because it's going to start formulating its 2013-14 budget, which takes effect July 1.
"If we're going to do anything, this is when we have to do it, in my opinion," he said. "I think it's important that if we are going to make a decision, that it's made soon – whether it be when we finalize our budget, before that or whatever.
"I don't think we can continue to kick the can down the road and hope that maybe someday we can collaborate with another municipality when we don't even know if they're willing to do it. (Lake Orion's) willing to talk about it, sure. We're willing to talk about it, too."
Bailey suggested that council members from Oxford and Lake Orion could always talk about this issue on an individual basis.
"I, for one, don't see any reason why individual council members can't have one-on-one discussions with individual members of the Lake Orion council," he said. "That could conceivably save a lot of time in my opinion."
"We could discover that gee whiz, Lake Orion and Oxford have the same concept really and then we could say, let's do it in two months instead of two years," Bailey explained.
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.