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Police millage: Twp. gives voters options

June 23, 2010 - When Oxford Township voters trek to the polls in November, they'll be asked to decide the fate of two police taxes – a straight 2.9152-mill renewal and a 0.75-mill increase.

"We don't want to raise taxes period," explained township Supervisor Bill Dunn. "That's why we're giving people the option."

Township officials last week voted 4-3 to direct Clerk Curtis Wright to work with the attorney to devise ballot language for the pair of three-year requests, the levy of which wouldn't begin until December 2012, if the voters approved.

Tax revenue generated by these millages would be used to continue funding the township's police services contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.

The township' substation is currently staffed with a lieutenant, detective sergeant, patrol investigator, 12 deputies and a full-time administrative assistant.

If voters approve just the 2.9152-mill renewal, the township will be forced to eliminate the lieutenant and two deputies and reduce the substation's administrative assistant from full-time to 25 hours per week.

"If they just pass the one millage, the renewal, we're going to have to let 3˝ people go," Dunn said.

The budget scenario for the millage renewal showed one of the existing deputies being converted to a school liaison officer, which means taking another deputy off road patrol.

But officials indicated the idea of adding a liaison officer isn't set in stone if only the renewal passes. That's something for the township board to decide.

"I'm not going to lessen the force by 3˝ people and use one person for a school liaison," Dunn noted.

If voters approve 0.75-mill increase on top of the renewal, they will still lose a midnight deputy, but they will be able to keep the lieutenant and another deputy plus maintain a full-time secretary.

The budget scenario for the tax increase also shows the conversion of an existing deputy to a school liaison officer.

Trustee Joe Bunting, who works as a police officer for the City of Birmingham, voted against the ballot proposals because he favored offering voters a 1.37-mill increase, which would allow the township to keep its current substation staffing at 16 plus add a school liaison officer.

"Maintaining these levels is important," he said. "I think if we don't do that we're going to regret it in the long run. Something will happen and we'll have a public outcry."

"We should be saying we understand that times are tough, but public safety is the most important part for any community," Bunting said. "No one's thinking about having a lesser millage when there's a major incident happening. All you're thinking about is that public safety person's going to get there very quickly."

While officials shared Bunting's sentiments regarding the idea of keeping police services at the same level, they disagreed with asking residents to pay an additional 1.37 mills to make it happen.

"You're going to put a hell of a burden on a lot of people," Dunn said.

"We're trying to keep it under 1 (mill)," explained the supervisor, who noted there are residents out there "trying to keep a house over their head, food on their table, (pay) medical expenses, (and buy) pills."

"These are awfully tough times," he said.

Treasurer Joe Ferrari agreed.

"It may not come down to what our residents want. It may come down to what they can afford," he said. "Myself, personally, I'd love to have the higher millage. That would be fabulous. Can I afford it? That's what it comes down to.

"Nobody's saying we don't want the coverage we have now. We have great coverage. We all know that. But it comes down to dollars and cents."

While Ferrari loved the idea of asking for a millage that negates the need for cuts in police services, he indicated it's just not realistic in light of all the foreclosures and falling home values.

"That's what I want (in terms of police staffing)," he said. "But I think I can afford the 0.75-mill."

Just as people are making cuts in their household budgets, Trustee Sue Bellairs said the township has to make cuts to its budget and when it comes to the police budget, that means eliminating personnel.

"We don't want to take people off the street," she said. "We would like to keep it just the way it is and add more people."

Not everybody in the audience agreed with the idea of having two millages on the ballot.

"I think that you underestimate the voters. I don't think you should separate the millage," said Margie Payne, administrative assistant for the Oxford Fire Department. "I think you should go for the whole thing under one thing.

"I just think people would rather vote for one thing. I think there's going to be a lot of confusion if you have the extra millage."

Bellairs believes having two millage requests won't be difficult for people to understand.

"They could have one or both," she said. "The voters are getting the choice whether they want to pay more or they want to pay the same."

There was some debate out in the audience as to the necessity of a school liaison officer.

"Are our schools that bad that we need a school liaison to be up there?" asked resident Helen Barwig. "What kind of problems are in our schools?"

Fire Chief Pete Scholz indicated that due to the poor economy, there are many instances in which both parents are home all day due to unemployment, causing an increase in domestic violence and other problems, which is affecting the kids, who bring that baggage with them to school everyday.

"Home life is terrible," he said. "It's carrying over to these kids."

On top of that there are fights and bomb threats at the schools, according to Scholz.

Then there's the drug problem in Oxford Schools, which Scholz said isn't being caused by kids from surrounding communities.

"It's not the outside communities that's bringing it in. It's our own residents' kids coming from our own community," he told the board.

Scholz said it's important for the community to make the schools "a safe haven," where they needn't fear being beat up or mistreated.

"I think that's what we owe the community," the chief said.

"If we really have to have (a liaison officer) and the schools know it, then the schools should really jump up and pay for it. They're not doing that," Barwig said. "The schools should pay their way if they really need this."

The school district has budgeted $50,000 for a liaison officer for the 2010-11 school year, according to Tim Loock, assistant superintendent of business and operations.

A sheriff liaison officer costs approximately $118,000.

It appears if a liaison officer is added to the township's sheriff contract, the district and municipality would most likely split the cost 50/50 for nine months out of the year, then the township would pay 100 percent for the three summer months.

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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