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Brandon Township police fund in trouble

by Susan Bromley

August 10, 2011

Brandon Twp.- Tax more now, or ask voters for a tax increase later?

That is the question township officials debated at their Aug. 8 budget workshop. The answer has yet to be determined.

The board agrees on one point: The police fund is in trouble.

"In 2013, if we do nothing, we will be $100,000 in the hole," said Supervisor Kathy Thurman, who favors increasing the police millage next month from the current 3.25 to 3.5286, the maximum amount that can be levied, and also supplementing the police fund with money from the township's general fund, as much as $80,000.

"I won't vote for raising the millage without taking it to the people," said Treasurer Terry Beltramo, who supports waiting until August 2012 to put a police millage increase on the ballot, and opposed any transfer of funds from the general fund to the police fund.

"If we don't raise the millage now to what they already approved and they don't approve a new millage increase, we'll be even further in the hole," noted Clerk Jeannie McCreery.

Township officials cut police staff by three and a half positions last year. Thurman said unless taxes are increased and the police fund supplemented from the general fund, residents could lose three more deputies.

The 2010 cuts took the staffing of the Brandon substation from 14 to 10.5. The Brandon School Board brought back the school liaison officer using their own funding, so technically the substation now has 11.5 deputies, but the school liaison officer is assigned strictly to the schools and does not do road patrol.

Declining property values have impacted the ability to fund many services, including police protection. A township fiscal priorities survey returned by more than 800 respondents a year ago found an overwhelming majority believe that police service is "very important" and 558 respondents disagreed that the police force should be reduced, with only 209 supportive of a decrease in officers. However, respondents were almost evenly split on paying an additional $28 per year in taxes to keep the level of law enforcement unchanged, with 391 favoring an increase in the millage and 382 disapproving.

Thurman acknowledged that even with levying the maximum allowable mills of 3.5286 and supplementing the police fund, there will eventually be a shortfall, it's only a matter of when. However, there are unknown factors at play, too. The county's estimate of a 5 percent decrease in taxable values for the township is just that— an estimate. Thurman also doesn't know if the sheriff's contract price will be affected by legislation requiring government employees to pay 20 percent of their healthcare. She isn't sure either, how much or for how long the township can afford to transfer money from the general fund to the police fund.

"We can do $80,000 this year and another $80,000 next year," she said. "After that, I can't speculate."

Thurman said she is anticipating a carry forward in the general fund from 2011 to 2012 of nearly $300,000.

The board has requested that Thurman research how large of a millage increase would be needed should the board decide to put the issue on the ballot next year without levying the full amount this year; and also how much would be asked for on the ballot if the 3.5286 mills was levied.

OCSO Undersheriff Michael McCabe said he believes if the township board takes a millage increase to the ballot, "voters will make the right decision."

He noted that voters in communities throughout the metro area including Ferndale, Livonia, Hazel Park, Royal Oak Township and Southfield all have recently requested millage increases to maintain or restore police or fire services, and all have overwhelmingly passed.

"We don't want to be a reactionary force with no free patrol time," McCabe said. "The two basic things you have to have to live in a community are police and fire services. We will work with the township to come up with the best solution possible. Ideally, Brandon should have a minimum of 12-13 deputies, based on population and square mileage, and a major thoroughfare (M-15). They are understaffed, no doubt about it."

The township board and Ortonville Village Council has a special meeting planned for 7 p.m., Aug. 15 at the library, 304 South St., to discuss the fire department and budget. The next regular township board meeting is set for 7:30 p.m., Sept. 6, at the township offices, 395 Mill St. A truth-in-taxation public hearing and millage rates will be set at the township board meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Sept. 19.