Police service depends on 3 millage votes in 2 communities
July 21, 2010 - For millage proposal proponents in Clarkston and Independence Township, total voter rejection is a grim prospect.
"If our (city's millage proposal) fails and the township's renewal and increase request fail, then neither community is going to have police coverage," said City Manager Dennis Ritter.
"We would put it back on the ballot for November, there would be no doubt about it, but if that failed, we would have to disband the sheriff's department (substation)," said Independence Township Supervisor Dave Wagner. "That would be devastating."
If Independence Township Substation closes, police service would be provided by Oakland County Sheriff's Office from its headquarters in Pontiac, according to Lt. Dale LaBair, commander of the substation.
City Clerk and Treasurer Jan Gillespie said a general millage increase for the city is critical in order for the city to keep its own police force. She said even though the measure is to levy up to five additional mills, they may only increase it 2.5-3 mills the first year to keep the police.
"We would use the other two mills as needed – we just have to be very, very conservative," Gillespie said. "It would be nice to have that option if the SEV (State Equalized Value, used to calculate property taxes) goes up, we'll never have to go any higher than the extra 2-3 mills for the police."
Ritter said the number of mills they use will be determined by city council.
"Between this budget year and the next two years, the forecast is such that we may very well have to levy the full five additional mills," he said.
He hopes property values will stabilize and reduce the millage rate.
If the millage proposal passes, it would generate nearly $220,000. Ritter said it costs $305,000 to run the department, but the city has money in the general fund to cover the $85,000 difference.
"The important thing on this whole issue is we're providing the residents the opportunity to make the decision," he said. "It is the intention of the council that if this passes, we will keep our police department fully funded."
Each mill equals a dollar taxed per $1,000 of a home's taxable value.
"If one homeowner's taxable value is $39,770, the increase would be $199 (for five mills)," he said. "Someone on Main Street's taxable value is $290,000, the increase for that homeowner would be $1,453."
Those interested in knowing exactly what the increase would be for their home can call the city office at 248-625-1559
The city sent a letter to residents pointing out the pros and cons of the millage, he said.
"The citizens have a really important decision to make," he said. "Read the letter very carefully and be sure to vote."
If the city's millage fails, but both the township's renewal of 2.0547 and increase of .9953 mills pass, the city would contract with OCSD out of Independence substation for $130,000. If only the renewal passes, it would cost the city $94,000.
"I know the question has come up about the village not having the right to vote on the police millage rate in Independence Township and that we should have a voice in that," Ritter said. "That was never an issue when they contracted with the township for the library and fire service. It just was whatever it was and that's how it's going to be with this."
He also said he talked to LaBair "to get a feel for if the additional millage doesn't pass."
"He gave me a rundown, how many deputies are on duty at any given time on any given shift," Ritter said. "He said if they have to start dropping deputy positions, he'll be reorganizing the schedules."
According to LaBair, the substation has 28 officers, which is three less than last year. Even with both renewal and increase, the station will probably lose at least one more deputy. If only the renewal passes, the substation could see a cut of 12-16 officers.
"That will hurt, not getting coverage like everybody's used to in the township," Wagner said. "I've got faith in the people of the township and I think they're going to vote in favor of it. Even with the renewal and the increase, due to property values dropping so much, residents will be paying less for police service than they paid in 2008."
Ritter said he knows response time will be slower with fewer officers, but he does see an advantage with the substation only a mile down the road.
"Covering the city is not an issue because our cars go through there all the time anyways. It wouldn't be any additional burden on the staff," Wagner said. "Whatever happens will happen and we'll be able to give them the good quality job they deserve."
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.