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Tax hike or cut cops?


Twp. voters face two sheriff millages on Nov. 2 ballot



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October 27, 2010 - When Oxford Township voters go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 2, they will face a very difficult decision.

They can either vote to raise their property taxes or watch their police staffing get cut by as many as five officers.

"Believe me, I wish we didn't have to ask people for more money, but we've really got no other choice here," said township Supervisor Bill Dunn. "The current millage rate just can't support the number of deputies we have right now. I don't want to jeopardize the township's safety by taking cops off the road."

Voters are being asked to approve two millage proposals.

One is a three-year, 2.9152-mill renewal that won't cost residents anymore in taxes than they're already paying.

However, it will result in less police officers to patrol the community because a mill is worth less than it once was due to the decreased taxable values of properties.

The second is a five-year, 0.75-mill increase that, when coupled with the existing millage rate, would allow the township to keep its police staffing as is, no additions.

"We need that double 'yes' vote to maintain the numbers that we have," said Oakland County Sheriff's Lt. Larry Perry, who commands the township substation.

"The (township) board wanted to leave it up to the voters to decide what level of police service they want," Dunn said. "They're paying for it, so they should get to choose."

If approved, both millages would be used to continue funding the township's contract with the sheriff's department.

The county's provided police services to Oxford (not including the village) since February 2000 when the joint township-village department was dissolved due to failed millages, public scandals and a high cost.

A mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value. So, a person whose home has a taxable value of $100,000 could expect to continue paying $292 annually for police services if the renewal is approved.

This renewal represents no tax increase whatsoever. It's the exact rate residents are currently paying and have been assessed for a number of years.

If approved, levy of the 2.9152-mill renewal would begin with the December 2012 tax bill and end with the December 2014 bill.

It's estimated the renewal will generate $1,758,216 in its first year.

The current police tax expires with the December 2011 levy, meaning the township has funding in place for next year and 2012 should the renewal fail next week.

Voters are being asked to approve a five-year, 0.75-mill increase on top of the renewal to make up for the revenue shortage the police budget is facing due to the continuing decline in property values.

If approved, levy of the 0.75-mill tax hike would begin with the December 2010 tax bill and end with the December 2014 bill. It's estimated to generate $452,340 in its first year.

As a result of the proposed hike, a resident whose home has a taxable value of $100,000 could expect to pay $75 more each year.

"That increase breaks down to 20 cents a day," Perry said. "That seems pretty reasonable. You can't go out and buy a cup of coffee for 20 cents anymore."

Officials have made it very clear that if voters don't approve the tax increase, they will be forced to reduce police services.

"There's only so much money available," Dunn said. "The only money the police get is from their millage and that's not enough. If the voters don't want to pay more, (staff) cuts are the only option. It's not a threat, it's a fact."

According to the township's budget projections, if the tax increase fails and current staffing levels are maintained, the police budget will have a $1.97 million deficit by December 31, 2014.

Perry indicated he's "been told" the township will have to cut five officers on Jan. 1, if the tax increase is not approved by voters.

"That's all up to the township board how they want to do that," he said. "That's beyond the scope of me."

Right now, the sheriff's substation is staffed by 16 employees 12 deputies, a lieutenant, detective sergeant, patrol investigator and a full-time administrative assistant.

"What we're asking for is just to be able to maintain the staffing levels where they're at right now," Perry said.

Even if the renewal and increase both pass, the township's still facing a $352,797 deficit by December 2014 with current staffing levels.

To deal with this, the township does have a budget scenario that calls for some minor staff adjustments that would leave the police fund with a $263,227 fund balance by December 2014.

In his professional opinion, Perry said losing five officers would be a detriment to public safety. "In order to effectively police the community, we need to maintain the number of officers that we have," Perry said. "The FBI recommends that you have one officer per 1,000 residents."

The township's population is currently just under 16,000, according to Perry, "so we're actually one officer short."

Given the demands of the community, Perry said the substation just can't afford to lose any officers.

These demands include policing the schools without the benefit of a dedicated liaison officer and being called out to the Crossroads for Youth campus whenever one of the juvenile inmates runs away.

"That's an extra burden," Perry said. "If one of those kids decides to leave Crossroads and they're court-ordered to be there, I have to send an officer out there to take a report. We have to do an area search to try to find the individual."

These days the lieutenant said the substation's been "busy," but the staff's been "handling it with the numbers that we have."

"I think we can effectively continue to police the community in the next three years with the number of officers that we have," he noted.

Overall, Perry's feeling good about both millages' chances of passing based on the people he's talked to. "The feedback that we've had has been very positive," he said. "The people want to be safe in their community; that's why they live here."

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