Source: Sherman Publications

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Villages set up committees to explore resource-sharing

by CJ Carnacchio

April 03, 2013

Oxford and Lake Orion officials created four new government committees last week as the village councils met for a second time in an effort to explore new ways to cooperate and save tax dollars.

Most of the hour-long discussion revolved around settling organizational issues associated with the establishment of committees to examine the areas of administration/events, police services, dispatch services and public works, then make recommendations to the councils.

"We seem to be moving right along," said Lake Orion Councilman Dave Churchill, who's employed as a full-time officer for the Oxford Village Police Department. "Everybody seems to be on the board with this, so I imagine great things and expedient progress. I'm honored to be a part of it."

Each of these committees will consist of one or two council members from both Oxford and Lake Orion as well as the paid administrators who oversee these services. Fire and police chiefs, the heads of the public works and township parks/rec. departments and the directors of the downtown development authorities will all be included.

With regard to the police committee to which he's been assigned, Oxford Councilman Dave Bailey said, "I'm interested in cooperation, collaboration. I'm interested in saving money, but not at the expense of interfering with the policing we've got now."

"I'm prepared to increase the cost to the community if it gives us better policing. That's where I'm at. That's where I'm coming from," Bailey continued. "That is not to say that I'll vote that way in the future, but that's the way I've voted in the past namely, top-of-the-ine policing, almost without regard to expense.

"On the other hand, collaboration is likely to save us substantial amounts of money, so that's cool, too."

Lake Orion Village Manager Paul Zelenak noted that both police departments already cooperate and share some resources. The committee's task would be to explore "potentially taking it to the next level," he said.

"Public safety is one of the most important things that people look at when they move into a community," Zelenak noted. "The sky's the limit on what potentially the two departments can do together."

Oxford Village attorney Bob Davis suggested both communities could potentially save money right away by working together to negotiate a new trash-hauling contract with their mutual service provider, the Sterling Heights-based Rizzo Environmental Services.

"There's a state enabling law that allows communities to get together for the sole purpose of coordinating purchasing power with respect to waste collection services," he said.

Since 2001, Davis has represented the 12 cities in southern Oakland County that make up the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA), a municipal corporation that handles waste and recycling.

Cooperating through SOCRRA has enabled some of these cities to reduce their trash collection costs by as much as 22 percent over the last five years, he told the councils.

"We have found that if you get some communities together and you can coordinate the ending of your (waste collection) contracts and rebid (them) at the same time, the pencil gets a little sharper," Davis said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Lake Orion Village President Ken Van Portfliet noted that consolidation isn't a word he would use to describe what his municipality and Oxford Village are trying to accomplish.

"We're looking to share resources and not consolidate in any way," he said. "Resources is what our main goal is here at this time."

Initially, these comments seemed to contradict the whole reason the two councils met for the first time Feb. 25, which was to discuss the possibility of consolidating a word Oxford officials had been using their police dispatch systems.

But Van Portfliet later explained to this reporter that "it's a manner of semantics."

"(The terms) resources and consolidation can be misperceived. We're still going to maintain being two separate communities," he said. "I want it to be understood that neither community is going to be losing anything from a governmental aspect either (with regard to) their rights or their services. People can construe consolidation as something being taken away."

Currently, both municipalities operate their own dispatch centers, which handle all the emergency and service calls to their respective village police departments and township fire departments. They each spend between $250,000 and $300,000 annually to run their dispatch centers.

An analysis conducted by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments indicated that consolidation of the two dispatch systems could save the two villages combined more than $100,000.

"Even (with regard to) the joint dispatch, it's meant to be staffed by both communities just at different times. That's the initial discussion going on right now," Van Portfliet told this reporter.

"It's not like there's one that's going to be the majority stakeholder over the other. It could maybe pan out that way, but that's not the discussion currently. It's not like one's getting folded into the other. It's going to be shared."