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Park concept raises public safety funding issue



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June 26, 2013 - By C.J. Carnacchio

Leader Editor

Having a county-run park in a community has a definite impact on a municipality's police and fire budgets, according to Addison Township Supervisor Bruce Pearson.

That's why he believes that factor needs to be considered as the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department continues exploring the concept of potentially creating an 860-acre multi-use adventure park centered around off-road vehicle (ORV) use in Oxford Township.

"I'm not raining on your parade. I'm just saying put that into your equation," said Pearson to the county representatives who addressed the Polly Ann Trailway Management Council (PATMC) last week about the proposed concept.

"You need to help the communities that host these big parks."

The county parks department is exploring the idea of developing this park on the 1,200-acre Koenig Sand & Gravel property.

The Koenig site is bordered by Ray Rd. to the north; the Addison Twp. border to the east; N. Oxford Rd. to the west; and Lakeville Rd./Polly Ann Trail to the south.

Although creating a legal place for ORV riding is the main impetus, the proposed park could also offer opportunities for horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, archery deer hunting, scuba diving and training, water recreation and watercraft use, nature trails, wildlife viewing and zip-line experiences.

As it stands right now, the concept involves the Koenig land potentially being acquired by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) using monies from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

A grant application has been submitted.

"We've got a bit of a long row to hoe with all of this," said Jon Noyes, supervisor of planning for the county parks system. "The grant application has been submitted, but at the earliest, (it will be) two years before any sort of an acquisition could occur."

That's assuming Koenig decides to sell the property to the state, which is by no means a sure thing. There's been no negotiations or agreements with the owner, only some preliminary discussion.

The concept involves the DNR buying the land, then leasing it to the county parks department for a period of at least 50 years. During that time, the county would be solely responsible for the development, operation and maintenance of the multi-use park.

Since early May, Noyes and the county parks system's executive director, Dan Stencil, have been pitching the park concept to Oxford's various governing bodies.

Pearson, who serves on the trail council, brought up the public safety funding issue based on his experiences with the Addison Oaks County Park.

While it's true the parks system does contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department to patrol its properties and respond to incidents, Pearson said the deputies are only there "for a certain amount of time" such as when park usage is heaviest on weekends and holidays.

"After that, it's subsidized by the communities," said Pearson, who's a retired sheriff's deputy. "The rest of the burden falls on our taxpayers (who pay for deputies assigned to the Addison substation) to patrol the park and to handle all the incidents."

But it isn't just the local police budget that's affected. Pearson said Addison Oaks puts a "big burden" on the township's fire department, particularly its emergency medical/ambulatory services.

"You bring a lot of people into the park," he said. "My fire department doesn't get any subsidies (from the county) or anything. It costs my residents a lot of money to serve everybody."

Addison Fire Chief Jerry Morawski explained that the busy time at Addison Oaks is from May to October. Last year, the department responded to 12 calls during period. This year, the department has responded to three calls at the park since May.

Morawski said the average call costs the department approximately $150 for personnel. But that figure doesn't include fuel, wear and tear on equipment and the liability of "running lights and sirens" to a scene, he noted.

Pearson explained to Stencil and Noyes that he's "not complaining" about the public safety funding situation.

He'd just like to see the county compensate municipalities for those services.

"It's just something you need to think about in your equation," he said. "If you're going to bring in thousands of people, we need some subsidies of some sort."

Stencil noted that Oxford Township officials requested 3 acres of the Koenig property be set aside because a joint Oxford-Addison fire station could possibly be built there someday.

But Pearson said that request has to do with facilities, not manpower.

"Manpower's my expense," he said. "You haven't thought about it in the parks that we have right now because my men patrol (Addison Oaks) when yours are all gone."

Three charrettes (or workshops) designed to give the public an opportunity to learn more about the proposed park concept, ask questions and provide input are scheduled for July 11, July 25 and Aug. 1.

All three workshops will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Oxford Village municipal complex, located at 22 W. Burdick St.

The results of each charrette will be posted online at www.DestinationOakland.com in order to provide the public with another opportunity to submit comments and suggestions.

"We want as many eyes on this as possible," Noyes 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.
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