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$346K error means more police cuts than expected



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August 18, 2010 - A $346,000 mistake in Oxford Township's projections concerning its proposed police millages means the municipality is actually going to lose more personnel than originally anticipated even if voters approve both tax proposals in November.

The error was discovered Monday afternoon by this reporter and confirmed by township Supervisor Bill Dunn.

In a nutshell, what happened is when calculating its budget projections for 2011-14, the township started with a police budget fund balance of $1.292 million as of Dec. 31, 2009.

This reporter noticed that number did not jive with the police fund balance as reported in the 2009 audit report, which was $945,900.

Dunn investigated and confirmed the township was using the wrong fund balance figure, which amounted to a $346,000 error, meaning there's that much less to spend on police services.

"It's not good news, but I'm glad you caught it," he said.

A fund balance is basically a government's savings account used to pay for unforeseen expenses and special projects or offset revenue losses.

How did the mistake happen?

Dunn explained that some large bills from last year related to the township's Oakland County Sheriff's contract and police overtime expenses came in late. Journal entries recording their payment weren't made until May of this year.

Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication within the township offices and those journal entries weren't passed on to the supervisor's office, which does the budgeting.

"The bills got paid, but the amounts were never subtracted from the fund balance (figure) my office was working with," Dunn explained. "When we started doing the numbers to come up with millage rates, we were working with a bigger fund balance than we really had.

"You start with the wrong number, you end up with the wrong number."

Dunn stressed there is no actual money missing, it was simply a mistake on paper.

As a result of this error, even if the two police tax proposals set to appear the November ballot – a 2.9152-mill renewal and a 0.75-mill increase – are approved, the township will lose more personnel than it expected.

Originally, township officials told the public that if just the renewal passed, the sheriff's substation was expected to lose 3.5 staff members.

Dramatic decreases in the taxable values of properties have resulted in existing millage rates generating much less revenue, a trend that's expected to continue for the next couple years.

Even if the 0.75-mill increase was approved along with the increase, the township indicated it would still lose at least one deputy.

But in light of this $346,000 error, Dunn said the township will lose more personnel than it initially estimated under the current millage proposals.

Exactly how many deputies would have to be cut hasn't been calculated yet.

"I know it's going to be a lot more than we thought," Dunn said.

The discovery of this mistake should affect the township board's discussions at the 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 special meeting.

Officials previously scheduled this meeting to look at the possibility of changing one of their ballot proposals by raising the requested 0.75-mill increase to a higher rate, which has yet to be determined.

Township officials are considering asking voters to approve a police millage hike that's larger than they originally okayed for the Nov. 2 ballot in order to maintain existing staffing levels and keep a fund balance of at least 10 percent in the police budget.

"I just wanted the opportunity to at least keep the sheriff's department at its present level," said Dunn at last week's regular board meeting. "We know ourselves, even with that 0.75 (mill) increase, we're going to lose personnel."

Dunn resurrected the police millage issue at last week's meeting in light of what voters did in Independence Township and Milford during the Aug. 3 primary election.

Independence voters approved a 2.0547-mill renewal along with a 0.8953-mill increase for the police services they receive from the sheriff's department.

Milford Village and Township voters passed a 0.8-mill increase to fund their 18-member police department, increasing the total rate from 3.0417 mills to 3.8417 mills.

Some Oxford Township officials wish to give voters the option of approving a tax increase that will generate enough revenue to keep the substation's staffing as is.

The township is currently served by a lieutenant, detective sergeant, patrol investigator, 12 deputies and a full-time administrative assistant.

At last week's meeting, Trustee Mike Spisz argued that asking voters for a millage that results in reduced services as opposed to what they currently receive is undemocratic.

"It's up to the people to make that decision, not this board," he said. "You're taking that decision away from them."

Spisz wants to leave everything up to the people. "I really, truly believe we should be letting the citizens of this township vote," Spisz said.

If the increase fails, the trustee indicated the township could always put another millage request on the ballot next year.

The current police millage expires with the December 2010 tax levy, meaning the township already has a funding source in place for the 2011 fiscal year.

The millages on the November ballot are to fund police services from 2012-14.

Whatever the township board decides, one thing's clear – there will be no school liaison officer as was previously discussed and shown in various budget projections.

"We're struggling to afford what we have right now. We don't need to add anything new," Dunn told this reporter. partment, increasing the total rate from 3.0417 mills to 3.8417 mills.

Some township officials wish to give voters the option of approving a tax increase that will generate enough revenue to keep the substation's staffing as is.

The township is currently served by a lieutenant, detective sergeant, patrol investigator, 12 deputies and a full-time administrative assistant.

At last week's meeting, Trustee Mike Spisz argued that asking voters for a millage that results in reduced services as opposed to what they currently receive is undemocratic.

"It's up to the people to make that decision, not this board," he said. "You're taking that decision away from them."

Spisz wants to leave everything up to the people.

"I really, truly believe we should be letting the citizens of this township vote," Spisz said.

If the increase fails, the trustee indicated the township could always put another millage request on the ballot next year.

The current police millage expires with the December 2010 tax levy, meaning the township already has a funding source in place for the 2011 fiscal year.

Whatever the township board decides, one thing's clear – there will be no school liaison officer as was previously discussed and shown in various budget projections.

"We're struggling to afford what we have right now. We don't need to add anything new," Dunn told this reporter.

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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