May 21, 2014 - When Oxford Township voters head to the polls in November, it appears they will be asked to approve a police tax that could allow the community to increase the number of officers serving it by two over the next five years.
Last week, officials voted 6-0 to have ballot language drafted that requests a 3.9152-mill tax levy beginning with the December 2015 township tax bill and ending with the December 2019 collection.
Only township residents living in the unincorporated areas – outside the village limits – would vote on and pay the tax. Village residents have their own police department, which they pay for via the 10.62 mills levied at council's discretion.
If approved, the tax would allow the township to continue funding the law enforcement services it receives via its contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.
Since 2000, the sheriff's office has patrolled the township and right now, the Oxford substation is staffed by 15 officers – one sergeant, two patrol investigators and 12 deputies.
The 3.9152-mill amount does not represent an increase over what township property owners paid on their December 2013 tax bills. But it does represent an increase over what they will pay on their December 2014 tax bill.
That's because in November 2012, township voters approved a separate 1-mill police tax to be added to their existing 2.9152-mill police tax.
The 1-mill tax was only for two years and it expired with the December 2013 levy.
So, in December 2014, township taxpayers will pay 2.9152 mills for police services and the municipality will dip into the police budget's reserves to cover the difference and maintain existing staffing levels.
Because the proposed 3.9152-mill request is a combination of the two previous taxes, legally, it must be labeled in the ballot language as an increase even though it's what residents were paying before.
With the proposed millage, the township has been asked by the sheriff's office to consider making some staffing changes with regard to the local substation's command structure and add two deputies over the next five years.
The sheriff's office is proposing to nix one of the patrol investigator positions in favor of adding a lieutenant to serve as the substation commander. The existing detective sergeant position would then be used to supervise a split shift from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Undersheriff Mike McCabe, who lives in the township, explained the reasoning behind this recommendation.
"Currently, you have one guy here (Sgt. Scott Patterson) that supervises 14 employees over three shifts, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," he said. "(It's a) little bit tough for somebody to do that, but he hasn't complained. He's done a great job at it."
That being said, McCabe told the board that having one person oversee a staff of 14 officers is "not good" and he doesn't recommend continuing the practice.
Township Supervisor Bill Dunn agreed.
"It's damn near impossible for one person to watch that many people," he said.
Not only would the detective sergeant position now provide a second supervisor to aid the lieutenant, it would also give the township another "boot on the street."
"It's not a sergeant that sits behind a desk," McCabe explained. "It's a sergeant that's out on the road. That takes calls, services the citizens, but also supervises the employees."
The undersheriff explained use of the sergeant's time would vary depending on the substation's ever-changing needs.
"One day, he might be in uniform because he's got to be out on the street," McCabe said. "The next day, you might have a major crime here, and he'll put a suitcoat and a tie on and maybe assist in an investigation."
But why would this sergeant work from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.?
"Statistically, that's your busiest time. That's when your greatest calls for service come in," McCabe told the board.
In order to add a lieutenant to the substation, the patrol investigator position that's been designated as the youth detective would be eliminated.
When voters approved the two-year, 1-mill police in November 2012, part of it was to pay for the addition of a youth detective who would handle cases involving juveniles.
But since the Oxford school district isn't helping to fund this position because it pays for its own private security personnel, it was proposed to cut the youth detective.
"We were hoping that the school district was going to step up and kind of chip in on that, which unfortunately, didn't happen," McCabe said.
Upgrading a patrol investigator position to a lieutenant would increase the 2015 sheriff's contract by $35,459, from $1.996 million to $2.032 million.
In addition to this proposed change in command structure, the sheriff's office also recommended adding two more road patrol deputies to the substation – one in 2017 and another in 2019.
That would bring the sheriff's substation back up to its 2005 staffing level when it had 17 officers.
And it would help bolster the township's officer-to-resident ratio, which has declined over the last 14 years.
"You have less officers per 1,000 (residents) today than you did in 2000," McCabe told the board.
According to figures provided by the undersheriff, the township had 0.9 officers per 1,000 residents back in 2000 and today, it has 0.85 officers per 1,000 residents.
The high point was in 2005 when the township had 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents.
"The bottom-line is this – in order for us to deliver the service to you that you want and deserve, you need a staff that's out there," McCabe said.
If two more officers were added as proposed, Oxford's contract with the sheriff's office would be an estimated $2.6 million in 2019.
If no staffing changes whatsoever were made, Oxford's contract would be an estimated $2.27 million in 2019.
The sheriff's office provides police services to a total of 15 communities with more than 350,000 residents combined.
"Literally, almost one in three people in Oakland County has the Oakland County Sheriff's Office as their local police department," McCabe said. "We're proud to say that."
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.