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City police a ballot issue -- sort of

May 19, 2010 - Voters will get their chance to save Clarkston Police Department in August, but ballot language won't be so specific.

Ballot language, approved 5-0 by Clarkston City Council, would amend the city's charter, allowing a millage increase from 15 mills to 20 mills, collecting about $220,000 when first levied in 2010.

According to City Attorney Tom Ryan, the only way to add mills for police was to amend the charter – 15 is the maximum under the current charter.

"You could ask for a special public safety millage, but you'd also have to raise the charter because we're up against it," Ryan said at the May 10 council meeting. "I guess the thought was rather than have a specific public safety millage, do it this way and then show everybody what the new budget is going to be like."

City Manager Dennis Ritter said saving the police department isn't possible without a charter amendment.

"If you vote yes, we're going to have a police department of our own – if you vote no, we're going to go to the (Oakland County) sheriff," he said. "It's just that simple."

Councilman Tom Hunter said they will have to explain to the public that local police is at issue.

"Unfortunately it's not going to appear on the ballot that way because of the legalities," he said.

City Clerk/Treasurer Jan Gillespie said they will send information packets to residents with tax bills in July.

Councilman Chuck Inabnit said he understands the council's intent is to use the extra mills for police funding, but is concerned how future councils might react.

"There is nothing that says it has to be spent on the police department," Inabnit said.

Cory Johnston, former councilman who attended the meeting, said it was "disingenuous" for the council to say it's a police millage when it's a "general millage increase."

"When I read the ballot language, what's going to show up in the voter's booth doesn't say anything about police, it just says 'raise the taxes,'" he said. "The word 'police' is not even in there."

Johnston doesn't believe the millage will pass the way it's set up.

"I certainly hope it doesn't pass because they didn't just say we need three mills or four mills or whatever to fund the police department or keep them where they are," he said. "They asked for 20 mills which is the maximum they can charge by law."

Gillespie said just because they asked for five more mills, doesn't mean they'll use it all.

Resident Steve Coventry, who also attended the meeting, said the council went with the general millage on the ballot so it would be turned down.

"The majority of the people don't want a tax increase, they can't afford a tax increase, so that will get turned down and will be their (the council's) excuse for getting rid of the police department, which will give them and DPW more money to throw away," he said. "I guarantee that is what will happen."

Coventry thought the council would be better with a few new members, but instead he believes its worse.

"What I've noticed in the 23 years I've lived in the city is when they make up their mind, it doesn't matter what the people want, he said. "They're going to do what they want done."

Council members Peg Roth and Mike Gawronski were absent from the May 10 meeting.

"We all love the Clarkston Police, there is no question about it, but I don't think we can afford them and I don't think the people in this community can afford a tax increase," Roth said. "I will be very curious to see how it (the vote) comes out."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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