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How we got here

July 21, 2010 - For those not familiar with the Oxford Township v. Village of Oxford case or who may have forgotten how it all started, here's a bit of history.

Beginning in 1999, the Oxford Fire Department was governed by a 12-member safety authority board called the Oxford Public Fire and EMS Commission (OPFEC). It consisted of all five village council members and all seven township board members.

The township owned and funded 82.3 percent of the department while the village owned and funded 17.7 percent.

Despite these percentages, each municipality had equal power on the OPFEC board. If a motion failed to receive a majority vote of both the township and village bodies, it failed, even if it passed the overall OPFEC board.

Not pleased with this arrangement, the township decided to withdraw from OPFEC. The village wanted to keep OPFEC alive and proposed making some structural changes, but they weren't enough for the township.

The township believed it should have sole control given it owned the majority of the fire department and its board was elected by both township and village residents.

Township officials pointed out that township residents had no influence over village council members because they cannot vote in village elections or hold village office.

There was some question as to whether the township's withdrawal automatically meant OPFEC's dissolution. So, in July 2003, the township filed a lawsuit in Oakland County Circuit Court seeking a declaratory judgment for the answer.

The answer finally came in February 2005 when Circuit Court Judge Wendy Potts ordered OPFEC's dissolution. "Once a party withdraws, leaving only one remaining party, no authority can exist," Potts wrote.

In December 2005, the village council voted to allow the township to provide fire services to the village from Jan. 1, 2006 through Jan. 1, 2011, but it expected to be immediately paid in full for its share of equity in the department.

On Jan. 1, 2006, the township took over as the sole owner and operator of the fire department.

The only question to be decided was how to distribute OPFEC's assets, which consisted of three fire stations and all of the department's vehicles and equipment.

In her original order, Potts ruled that "any further disputes between the parties, including the distribution of assets, shall be determined by binding arbitration."

For the last five years, the township and village having been attempting to work out a settlement through the arbitrator and in meetings between representatives from both sides.

It's been agreed that the township owes the village $643,241 for its equity in the fire department.

However, the manner in which the money's to be paid has not been agreed to by both sides.

The township's July 14 offer represents an attempt to settle the payment issue along with some ancillary issues between the two municipalities such as fire/EMS dispatch services and the fate of the old township and fire halls, plus the municipal parking lot.

So far, over the last seven years, the township has spent approximately $324,738 in legal fees, while the village has spent at least $238,088. These totals include attorney bills, arbitrator costs and expert witness fees.

The village's total doesn't include legal bills from 2003 and 2004, the amounts of which were not available by press time.

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