August 22, 2012 - This wasn't an easy column for me to write. I agonized over it and penned it at the last-minute. I wasn't sure if I should publish it, but I've never been one to just sit on the fence when I feel an issue is important, so here goes.
In the past, whenever the issue of county versus local dispatch has arisen, I've gone on record as consistently and faithfully supporting local dispatch.
As both a newspaper editor and a village resident, I've enjoyed a good relationship with village dispatchers.
I've always found village dispatchers to be professional, helpful and knowledgeable whenever I've required their services, from obtaining information for a story about a house fire or car crash to calling in a complaint about a suspicious character on my street.
But when it comes right down to it, we live in a world of shrinking revenue streams, ever-changing technology and increasing mandates from the federal and state governments. We live in a world where luxury must give way to necessity and that which is no longer practical must be eliminated.
The writing is on the wall.
It just doesn't make any sense – economic or otherwise – for the village to continue maintaining its own dispatch center.
The days where every little community needs to have its own dispatch are long gone.
The fact is Oakland County can do the job for Oxford for a heck of a lot less money.
We're talking an annual savings of nearly $270,000 in operations costs alone just for police dispatch – $296,082 for village versus $27,580 for county.
The cost difference is so significant that it cannot be ignored, trivialized or even justified. It's the very heart of the issue, especially when the village is struggling to balance its budget every year.
Of the 10.62-mill rate that I pay as a homeowner to support my village government, 7.56 mills goes to fund the police department and dispatch center. Of that amount, 2.91 mills is what I pay just for dispatch services.
Frankly, I'd rather have that money in my pocket to pay for the things my family needs and wants. I don't work hard everyday to support my government and its employees. I work to support myself and my family.
Don't for a moment equate less expensive with less service or less quality because it seems to me that county dispatch has the technology, personnel, training and experience to give Oxford the professionalism and attention to detail it deserves and then some.
Everyday 400,000 of the county's 1.2 million residents rely on the sheriff's dispatch center to handle their 9-1-1 calls. Every year, the county seems to add new municipalities to its list of communities that contract for dispatch services.
All these residents can't be displeased with their service. All these communities can't have made a poor choice.
I agree with village resident Sue Bossardet that it's valuable and necessary to have someone manning the village police station 24/7 to deal with walk-ins and emergencies. Right now, it's the village dispatcher who fulfills that role and does a good job.
But I also agree with Councilman Tony Albensi that the village could use a portion of that $270,000-per-year savings – should the municipality contract with the county – to hire support personnel to man the police department's front desk during off-hours and at night. We don't need to keep paying for an entire dispatch center simply to continue offering this personalized service.
Given I'm not a heartless monster who wants to see people lose their jobs, I was glad to hear Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe explain how the village's dispatchers would be eligible to apply for jobs with the county should the municipality decide to go that route.
I was also glad to hear about the county's track-record of hiring local dispatchers from communities it's put under contract such as Rochester Hills and Walled Lake. I would definitely want the county to hire Oxford's full-time dispatchers. They'd be a good fit.
The time has come for the Oxford Village Council to make some tough decisions, some bold decisions. Contracting with Oakland County is the right decision.
Part of me believes writing this column is futile because I'm already fairly certain about how council will vote on this issue, if it ever gets to that point.
I know that council members Dave Bailey and Maureen Helmuth will vote to keep local dispatch.
I'm pretty darn sure that council members Albensi and Elgin Nichols will vote to go with county.
To me, the swing vote in all this is village President Tom Benner.
I've always known Benner to be a man of integrity, who truly wishes to do the best thing and the right thing for the taxpayers he serves. His words and his actions at council meetings tell me he really believes in being frugal with the taxpayers' money – a trait I wish more of our officials shared.
Although Benner is definitely a fiscal conservative, I also know he has a soft-spot for keeping services local, so I believe if push comes to shove, he'll probably vote to keep village dispatch.
I could be wrong on that. Actually, I hope I'm wrong and Benner sees county is the best option for village taxpayers.
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.