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No vote on dispatch issue for village residents



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June 18, 2014 - Hours upon hours of debate and legal research spread across many months and meetings came down to a final decision made after about seven minutes of discussion.

As a result, Oxford Village voters will not be given the opportunity to decide whether they wish to continue paying to operate a local dispatch center or contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office for this service.

Last week, the village council voted 3-2 "to keep local dispatch and discontinue ballot language research."

"I think this does not have to go to a vote of the people. This is our responsibility," said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth, who made the motion. "We are wasting all kinds of time on this."

Voting in favor of the motion were council members Sue Bossardet, Dave Bailey and Helmuth. Voting against it were council members Elgin Nichols and Bryan Cloutier.

"The council has a role in the village structure and among the things that the council is expected to do is provide for public safety," Bailey said. "That includes police, fire, emergency medical (services) and dispatch. And the cornerstone of all of that is dispatch."

"I personally feel that I need to provide for those services as best I can. And I understand that if any one of these possible ballot languages should go before the people, whether the vote is yes or whether the vote is no, it, to some extent, ties the hands of council."

Since last summer, council has been debating whether to ask village voters to choose via a ballot question which agency they want to provide their police dispatch services.

"I heard the vote, so I'm done with it as far as I'm concerned," Cloutier said. "I don't want to have this dialogue any longer."

For many years, the village police department has operated its own dispatch center.

To run this center during the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins July 1, the village has budgeted $304,581.

Of the 10.62 mills in property taxes paid by village residents, approximately 2.5 mills will be used to fund the dispatch center.

If the village were to close the center and contract with the sheriff's office for dispatch services, the price for the current year would be $28,130.

Based on calculations provided by village Manager Joe Young, the village could save anywhere from $85,000 to $215,000 annually depending on whether or not council wished to pay someone to continue manning the police station's front desk.

In his June 9 opinion, village attorney Bob Davis presented council with two potential ballot questions.

The first proposal asked the main question – "Shall the Village of Oxford, without any millage increase or decrease, terminate its local dispatch services, which has a current annual cost of $ ____, in favor of a contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office to provide dispatch services at a current annual cost of $ ____?"

"That is the question," Davis told council.

The second question addressed the issue of what to do with the savings should voters approve the first question.

It read, "Shall the cost savings of terminating the Village of Oxford local dispatch services in favor of dispatch services by the Oakland County Sheriff's Office, if approved, be dedicated to the funding and maintenance of roads and infrastructure in the Village of Oxford?"

Looming large in the discussion over placing the dispatch issue on the ballot has been the issue whether such a question would be considered advisory in nature.

Under state law, governments are not authorized to ask voters advisory questions.

This way governing bodies cannot shirk their responsibility to make decisions on issues, particularly controversial ones, by asking voters to decide.

In his opinion, Davis indicated he met with the county's election staff and they "made it clear they are not the arbiters of what is – and what is not – advisory ballot language."

"If the village submits an item for the ballot within the time period allowed, certified and supported by a proper resolution, then the issue will be managed by Oakland County as being valid," the attorney wrote.

However, Davis noted this doesn't prevent a person or entity seeking to have the ballot language disqualified from challenging it in circuit court.

"I cannot predict or forecast any such challenge or its outcome," Davis wrote.

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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