February 27, 2013 - What began as a discussion about the possibility of consolidating police dispatch services in the villages of Oxford and Lake Orion has developed into a larger look at potential collaboration projects between the municipalities.
Village councils and managers from both communities met Monday night in Lake Orion to establish some areas where the villages could consider sharing or even consolidating to save money for both.
The councils voted to establish some committees and meet next month in Oxford to further the discussions. Oxford Township supervisor Bill Dunn and Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett both attended the meeting and pledged their townships' support.
Lake Orion Village Manager Paul Zelenak said it was important for him and Oxford Village manager Joe Young to talk often and find ways to save the communities money.
"The goal of government is to provide service in an efficient and effective manner, Zelenak said. "That's our primary core function. Just like any other business we're trying to keep our costs down and deliver the best service for the best price so you get the best value. In that sense we're the same as a private company."
The areas under initial discussion included: administrative, public works, police, garbage collection, transportation and events. The villages discussed whether some services such as vehicle maintenance, plowing and salting roads, purchasing salt, grass cutting and whether water and sewer services might be shared or consolidated.
Village officials from both communities said they were open to anything that would save their communities money.
Oxford's Young said the communities "already back each other on dispatch and police."
"There are other possibilities like joint bidding our rubbish collection. If we combine our bids we might get a better price on things"
Lake Orion Village President Ken Van Portfliet and Oxford's Dunn said the communities need to decide how to proceed and not let the discussions stop.
The councils each determined to place council members, their village managers and others on sub-committees that could more easily develop plans. Both townships will be involved, too.
Everyone agreed that the biggest savings could be in the consolidation of police dispatch services. Currently, both villages have their own dispatch services. They also handle dispatch duties for fire services for the townships of Orion and Oxford.
"It is the most significant cost savings we are facing," said Oxford Village President Tony Albensi. "It's the one issue we need to continue to discuss. We have been talking about it for some time and it is finally coming together."
The most commonly-uttered phrase among all of the council members seemed to be "I'm open to anything to save money."
Both communities have police and fire dispatch services that cost between $250,000 and $300,000 annually. Consolidation could potentially save the two villages combined more than $100,000, according to an analysis by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.
Orion Township Supervisor Barnett told the group that members of his board are seeking cost-savings options that may include looking to Oakland County for all of its 911 service. Currently, both townships contract with Oakland County for police dispatch services and for police services.
Barnett said Orion is paying Lake Orion about $100,000 annually just for fire dispatch and he believes the township could save about 60 percent by going with Oakland County for everything.
Orion Township has a contract with Lake Orion through the end of the year.
Oxford Township pays Oxford village about $35,000 annually for fire dispatch services.
"We are looking for the same things you are – to save money," Barnett said. "Our board is very interested to look at other options."
Barnett said this is why he wants Orion Township to be part of any discussions between Oxford and Lake Orion villages about consolidating dispatch services.
In addition to consolidating, Dunn also suggested that the communities look to attend each others planning commission meetings or ones in Auburn Hills to try and bring new businesses into the communities.
Dunn said it was most important not to let the discussions stall and it was why he urged the groups to establish committees and meet next month in Oxford.
Apparently, there is one area in which the communities will not offer any support to each other.
"No football plays," said Van Porfliet, in reference to the Lake Orion and Oxford football rivalry.
Former Leader Editor Dan Shriner will cover Wildcat football this season.