January 22, 2014 - Oxford Village began 2014 by adding a new customer for its dispatch services.
Oxford residents James Boomer (front) and Ashley Drouillard both work in the Oakland County dispatch center. Boomer has worked there for more than 10 years and is a shift leader supervisor. Drouillard, a former village resident who now lives in the township, has worked at the center for about a year. Photo courtesy of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office. (click for larger version)
But now, the municipality is losing a long-time customer because of a disagreement over adequate staffing levels in the local dispatch center.
On Wednesday, Jan. 15, Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn sent a letter to village attorney Bob Davis accepting a proposal from the village that would allow the township to terminate its dispatch contract without any legal dispute.
"On behalf of the township and the township board, I am authorized to accept that proposal," Dunn wrote.
That same day, Dunn informed the Oakland County Sheriff's Office that the township plans to contract with it to dispatch all of the fire and emergency medical calls in the township and village.
The township currently contracts with the village to handle all of the Oxford Fire Department's calls.
For this service, the township would have paid the village $37,153 this year and $38,268 next year.
Undersheriff Mike McCabe indicated the county will work closely with the township to expedite the transition.
"It will be somewhere right around April 1 (when the switch is made) if everything goes right," he said.
Oxford will become the 16th fire department served by the county dispatch center located in Pontiac.
"We'll continue to deliver the best service we can to all the fire agencies that contract with us," McCabe said.
It appears contracting with the county could cost the township $45,242 in the first year.
That's based on the county's dispatch rate of $25.46 per call, which takes effect April 1, multiplied by 1,777, which is the three-year average of fire runs in Oxford from 2011-13. Oxford had a total of 5,332 calls during this period.
"We might be able to bring their numbers down, which is what we did with a couple of other departments where they were counting (calls) they shouldn't have been counting in the average," McCabe noted.
Dunn's termination notice was prompted by the village council's 4-1 decision Jan. 14 to instruct Davis to reissue his Dec. 19, 2013 opinion letter regarding dispatch issues to the township "and wait for a response to the solutions set forth in that letter."
Council made this decision following a closed session meeting with its attorney.
In that letter, Davis offered the township two options:
1) "The township can have an immediate termination of the dispatch agreement and the village will work with the township on any transition to a new service . . . We do not see any benefit to litigation or contract dispute."
2) The township and village spend six months analyzing dispatch operations together "to determine whether there are issues relating to the delivery of service to the township." Monthly meetings to discuss issues, protocols and equipment were suggested.
Dunn said the township chose the first option because the village did not answer the township's request to staff its dispatch center with two dispatchers per shift 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The township board approved a motion requesting this in early December and approved another motion reiterating the request at its Jan. 8 meeting. The Jan. 8 motion included language that stated if the village cannot provide two dispatchers 24-7, then the township "will begin the transition to Oakland County's dispatch service."
The village dispatch center is typically staffed with one dispatcher per shift unless a second one is called in due to severe weather or a special event in town.
Since the addition of the Village of Lake Orion as a dispatch services customer on Jan. 6, the village center is being staffed with two dispatchers per shift for 16 hours a day as part of the transition. A $65,000 state grant will allow the center to continue to be staffed this way 16 hours per day through the estimated date of April 12, according to village Manager Joe Young.
But the township wants two dispatchers 24-7 on a permanent basis, not a temporary one.
"Twice now we've asked the village if they can give us two dispatchers," Dunn said. "The township doesn't consider the options Mr. Davis put in his letter (to be) an answer to our request. We wanted the village to give us a 'yes, we can do that' or a 'no, we can't do that.' Since they aren't really giving us an answer either way, we're going with the county because we know they can give us what we want (in terms of staffing)."
The county center currently employs a total of 54 dispatchers. Depending on the time of day, there are 11 to 13 county dispatchers on duty per shift.
Adding Oxford will allow the county center's staffing to grow.
"The revenue that's generated from the contract will allow us to hire one more dispatcher," McCabe said. "We did it with Orion (Township when it switched to county), so I'm sure we'll do the same thing with Oxford."
Township officials requested two dispatchers be present in the village center 24-7 because they were concerned that having one on duty is not enough to adequately cover Oxford Township, Oxford Village and now, Lake Orion.
The village disagreed.
"Our research and our studies indicate we are not required to have two dispatchers," said Davis, who's been serving as the council's designated spokesperson on the dispatch issue.
Young calculated that adding a second dispatcher 24-7 to the local center, using part-time employees, would cost the village an additional $113,246 per year.
Based on past and present experiences, the village believes a second dispatcher is not necessary. "Our dispatch system has worked effectively for both communities for many years without incident," Davis said.
Davis explained that so far, the addition of Lake Orion has had "a very minimal impact on the number of calls" received by the village's dispatch center.
"That's why we proposed to the township, let's analyze this for six months before we terminate," he said.
It's Davis' opinion that the township's motion requesting the village provide two dispatchers 24-7 did not constitute a formal response to the options he presented in his Dec. 19 letter. He noted the village didn't even receive a letter from the township informing it of the motion until just prior to the Jan. 14 council meeting.
That's why he advised council to reissue his letter.
"I made two alternative proposals and they didn't respond to either one of those, but now they have," Davis said.
The attorney considers Dunn's Jan. 15 letter, in which the township chose the termination option, to be a formal response and as such, he's drafted a termination agreement.
"We can't end this (via board motions)," the attorney said. "We need binding, executed agreements."
Under his proposed termination agreement, the township would set the termination date, in writing, so as to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of dispatch services to residents.
The document calls for the village to "cooperate and work with the township on the transfer of dispatch services" to another provider and for the township to "pay for dispatch services through the termination date."
This way there's no question as to when the village is supposed to stop providing the service and when the township is supposed to stop paying for it.
"We want this contract to end amicably and with a good faith writing expressing the amicable departure of the parties," Davis said.
Both municipalities would also hold each other harmless under this proposed agreement.
"Both of us are releasing each other from any claims or suits or demands arising out of the (dispatch services) contract. We're simply ending the contract early," Davis said. "Everyone just walks away . . . There's no arguments."
Council approved the termination agreement during a special Jan. 20 meeting.
The township board must also approve it.
Young indicated the village will use the $20,000 its receiving from Lake Orion for dispatch services to help plug the financial hole that will be left by the loss of the township as a customer.
But that will still leave a gap of approximately $18,000 in the village budget. Council will determine how to fill it during its upcoming budget deliberations for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins July 1, Young said.
When asked if any thought will be given to charging Lake Orion more for dispatch services, Young replied, "That's something they (council) can talk about."
Right now, the contract price is locked in for the next three years with 2 percent increases in 2015 and 2016. If Oxford wanted to increase it, Lake Orion would have to agree to the change, Young noted.
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.