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Officials concerned voters won't understand police taxes

July 21, 2010 - When Oxford Township voters go the polls in November, they'll be asked to approve two separate police millages – a renewal and an increase.

However, some officials are worried the public isn't going to understand exactly what they're voting on or the level of service they're going to receive should one or both of the proposals be approved.

"I have a problem in that it doesn't specify what it's for," said Trustee Melvin "Buck" Cryderman. "It's almost like we got two police millages and it's not clear what it's for."

"I want to make sure everybody understands . . . that if this passes we're still cutting current services," said Trustee Mike Spisz.

Township officials last week voted unanimously to place a three-year, 2.9152-mill tax renewal on the general election ballot.

They then voted 5-2 to place a three-year, 0.75-mill tax increase on the same ballot.

Both millages, if approved, would be used to fund the township's service contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department, which has been providing police protection here since February 2000.

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

A mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value. On a home with a $100,000 taxable value, the renewal would cost $292 annually, while the increase would add another $75.

If just the renewal passes, the sheriff's substation will lose 3.5 staff members. This includes eliminating the lieutenant and two deputies, plus reducing the administrative assistant to 25 hours per week.

However, if voters approve the renewal plus the increase, the township would only lose one deputy. Spisz wants the public to be aware that no matter what, the township's going to lose manpower at the substation.

"I want to make sure the taxpayers in Oxford understand that," he said.

If just the renewal's approved, Spisz believes the substation will lose more than the projected 3.5 people.

"I think that's more four to five," he said. "That's my opinion based on the numbers to get a balanced budget."

Even if the increase is approved along with the renewal, the trustee believes the projection of losing one deputy is optimistic.

"I think one's a minimum," Spisz said. "I think you're still going to lose two to three to balance that budget."

Both Spisz and Trustee Joe Bunting believe the township should be offering residents the option of voting for a millage increase that funds police staffing at its existing levels.

"I feel we should be asking for a millage to maintain our current services and let the taxpayers vote on it," Spisz said. "We're taking that option away from our taxpayers."

To keep the substation staff at its current levels plus add a school liaison officer, voters would have to approve the 2.9152-mill renewal, plus an increase of 1.37 mills.

Right now, the projected budgets for the renewal and increase proposals show the conversion of an existing deputy to a school liaison officer, which means taking the person off the road for nine months out of the year and putting them inside the schools.

Other officials disagreed with asking for such a large millage increase.

"It was the board's choice to go under 1 mill," said Supervisor Bill Dunn. "People are trying to hang on to their homes. To ask for too much could put an awful burden on some people."

"I want to ask for a millage that's realistic to our taxpayers," said Treasurer Joe Ferrari, who believes the proposed 0.75-mill increase is "reasonable."

"But you're making the decision for them by saying that," retorted Spisz. "You should let them make the decision, not us."

Cryderman was worried the ballot language isn't clear enough for voters. He wanted wording that told people exactly what they would be getting in terms of police staffing.

"If this millage doesn't pass, I'm always going to wonder did it (not) pass because it's not clear, because we relied on the newspaper (and) we didn't write what we want on our proposal," he said.

"You can't write just what you want," noted Trustee Sue Bellairs. "There's rules. You're not allowed to just write a lot of stuff in ballot language.

"That's your job as an elected official – to make (things) clear to the voters, to get (the word) out to the papers and to educate the voters. There's cable TV. There's the newspaper. It's your job to do that."

"I just want to make sure we're doing everything we can," Cryderman said. "I'd like to see it pass and I want to give it all the chance that we can."

Bellairs indicated voters have a "responsibility," too. "It's up to the people to inform themselves before they go to vote," she said. "It's up to us to make sure we put (information) in the sources that they would utilize."

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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