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Township police: 'Quality of service is starting to decline'

August 25, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- It's a conundrum— township residents don't want higher taxes, but they don't want their services reduced, either.

Police protection in the township is already falling, says Oakland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. and Brandon Substation Commander Pete Burkett, who is urging township officials to levy the full police millage to save two positions they are considering cutting.

The township board will officially vote on the police millage rate in September, but during the Aug. 9 budget workshop meeting, the consensus of officials was that the rate levied should remain at 3.25 instead of raising it to 3.5286, the maximum allowable.

If they raised it, Burkett said they could save two more positions by 2012, instead of losing two more. In June, the township board unanimously voted to eliminate both the desk officer at the Brandon substation as well as the school liaison officer position.

"If they would levy the 3.52 mills, we wouldn't have to make the cuts and it would be a minimal impact on the taxpayers financially," Burkett said. "We've already seen a decrease in our ability to do our job properly...No one wants taxes increased, but in order to properly do our jobs, the board has to make tough decisions for the health, safety and welfare of the community."

He noted that with the loss of the school liaison officer position, all juvenile crime now goes to Detective Dale Brown, who is so overloaded with what was formerly two jobs that he doesn't have time to investigate property crimes, only assaults.

Burkett recently met with Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman and Schools Superintendent Lorrie McMahon regarding the school liaison position to see what options were available for the forthcoming school year.

In the past, the township has done the majority, or all, of the funding of the position. With no funds available from the township, McMahon said the decision was made that the school district will pay for an officer to cover home football and basketball games, as well as major dances. The cost is estimated to be $12,000-$14,000 and district officials will pay the money to the township, which in turn will contract with the sheriff's office for the services. The contract has not been signed yet, but arrangements have been made for coverage of the first home football game. McMahon said she will miss having the school liaison officer in the schools on a daily basis.

"It's something we'd like to have back, but I don't see our finances getting significantly better in the next few years," she said.

Burkett said this will ultimately be a problem not just for the school, but for the police.

"Any time they have an issue, they will have to call 9-1-1, like anyone else," he said. "School officers are given those positions because they are trained juvenile officers and personality-wise it takes a special person to work in the schools. Officers that will respond aren't trained to handle these specific situations handled by our juvenile officers. I can see that being an issue. The schools, with having to call and waiting for a car to arrive, my fear is that they won't call and request our assistance when really they should be."

The next township budget workshop meeting is set for 5:15 p.m., Aug. 30, at the township library, 304 South St., during which officials plan to discuss results of the township fiscal priorities survey distributed in The Citizen last month.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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