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Twp. voters to face two public safety millages on Nov. ballot

June 18, 2014 - Oxford Township voters will face two millage proposals concerning public safety when they head to the polls in the general election.

Last week, the township board voted 7-0 to place a six-year, 3.5-mill tax to fund fire/medical services and a five-year, 3.9152-mill tax to fund police services on the Nov. 4 ballot.

One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.

The 3.5-mill tax requested to support the Oxford Fire Department consists of a 2.5-mill renewal of its current fire/medical operations millages, which expire with the December 2014 tax collection, plus a 1-mill increase to hire two full-time firefighters/paramedics along with one 12-hour part-time staffer.

If approved, the tax's levy would begin with the December 2015 collection and end with the December 2020 collection. It would generate an estimated $2.49 million in its first year.

As Fire Chief Pete Scholz previously explained to the board, the department is experiencing manpower issues.

The problem is two-fold.

One, the department's call volume has increased significantly in recent years.

Last year, the department responded to 1,955 calls. Of those, 1,628 were medical-related and 327 were fire calls.

That's up 79.85 percent from 2006, when the department had 1,087 calls – 877 medical and 210 fire.

Because 83 percent of the calls are medical-related, they are much more time-consuming as most involve transporting patients to the hospital.

Secondly, the number of calls to which no paid-on-call fire personnel respond are increasing.

According to data supplied by the fire department, there were 114 incidents in 2012 to which no paid-on-call personnel responded. In 2013, that number grew to 149. Most of these calls were medical-related.

Even though the fire department has 13 full-time firefighters, including the chief, it still relies heavily on its paid-on-call personnel to handle calls.

Right now, the department has 24 paid-on-call firefighters. But that number fluctuates.

In 2006, the department had 20. It went up to 32 in 2008 and has pretty much declined ever since.

Paid-on-call personnel are especially important in medical incidents because they're the ones who drive the ambulance to the hospital.

If no paid-on-call personnel respond to the scene, then a full-time firefighter/paramedic must drive the ambulance, while another full-timer rides in the back with the patient. This leaves less personnel to cover Oxford.

As for the proposed 3.9152-mill police tax, if approved, its levy would begin with the December 2015 tax collection and end with the December 2019 collection.

It's expected to generate $2.36 million in its first year.

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 police tax would allow the township to continue funding the law enforcement services it receives via its contract with the Oakland County Sheriff.

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 reserves in order 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 previously paying.

There was some thought given to splitting the proposal into two questions, asking voters for a 2.9152-mill renewal in one and a 1-mill increase in the other.

But township officials preferred to have one question. "I'm in favor of doing it all or nothing," said township Supervisor Bill Dunn. "If the first one (the renewal) passes (and) the other one (the increase) doesn't, it will gut the police department."

Under the proposed millage, the sheriff's office wants the township 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.

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.

The township has less officers per 1,000 residents serving it today than it did in 2000.

According to figures provided by the sheriff's office, 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.

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.

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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