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Township retains current deputies— for now

Even with an increase in mills, there will still be a decrease in tax revenue,' Supervisor Kathy Thurman

November 18, 2009 - Brandon Twp.- Police protection in the township will remain the same— for now.

The township board approved, by a 4-2 vote at their Nov. 16 meeting, to postpone indefinitely any staffing adjustments to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office's Brandon substation. Supervisor Kathy Thurman and Trustee Charlene Carlson voted no.

"We need more in-depth discussion of the budget shortfall and what will be done in terms of public safety," said Trustee Tom Stowell.

Thurman had brought a proposal to the meeting to replace the Deputy I position at the substation, currently filled by Deputy Gary Godschalk, with either a part-time deputy or part-time employee, to realize a savings of at least $53,000.

Thurman made the recommendation based on a projected loss of $200,000 in tax revenue for the sheriff's department in 2011, and an additional $100,000 hit in 2012.

The township contracts with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office for police protection, and all funding for police is provided by a voter-approved millage.

The township currently levies 3.25 mills for police protection, but is authorized to levy up to 3.5 mills, which Thurman said may be assessed in 2011, pending a board vote.

"Even with an increase in mills, there Thurman said. "We're looking at laying off patrolmen in the future. I think it's more important to have appropriate staffing of patrol officers than a desk deputy... Any cuts will hurt the department, but that cut would be less harmful."

Brandon Substation Commander Sgt. Pete Burkett defended keeping the full-time deputy one position.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction to cut this position," he said. "He's not just clerical. He doesn't sit in the office all day long, he's a full-time officer.

We worked hard to get this position."

Godschalk has been at the substation since April 2008. Prior to his arrival, Larry Roberts handled clerical duties, but as a civilian was unable to go out on calls to accident and crime scenes, which Godschalk can do, as well as take police reports at the station.

Treasurer Terry Beltramo said it was premature to dump the position.

"The sheriff's department budget is not as bad as some people think," Beltramo said. "Right now, the sheriff's department has more than $551,000 in their carry forward. The carry forward would cover both years, even without the (millage) increase. They're going to be fine and we need that deputy on the desk, he's better than a clerk."

Thurman said that even though there is a carry forward balance of $551,000 currently in the police budget, at the end of the year, it will be decreased due to overtime costs— a major drain. So far this year, Thurman said the township has paid $123,322 in overtime. In 2008, $195,568 was paid in overtime.

"Sgt. Burkett is making an effort to decrease overtime, but unless we eliminate it completely, we're still looking at laying off officers," Thurman said. "They can cut overtime in some regards, but they are unionized. All we can say is that we can't afford the officers and cut them. If he can eliminate overtime, we don't have to eliminate officers."

The Oakland County Sheriff's Office currently employs 14 staff at the Brandon substation, which besides patrol deputies includes Commander Burkett; Deputy I Godschalk; a patrolman investigator; school liaison officer; and a K-9 deputy.

Burkett notes that the FBI standard calls for one police officer per 1,000 residents in a community. The township has 15,000 residents.

"It's difficult to answer whether we need this many officers," Thurman said. "It depends on who you talk to— a lot of people say you don't need that much police protection, others are glad to have it. Certainly, keeping the township safe is a high priority issue."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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