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Ballot language OKd for Brandon police millage

by Susan Bromley

March 05, 2014

Brandon Twp.- Township voters will be asked on the August ballot to authorize 4 mills for police services, a request they have approved five times over the past 40 years.

"Historically, Brandon voters have approved up to 4 mills for police services five times since 1974, so we are just asking for that to be approved another time," said Supervisor Kathy Thurman.

During their March 3 meeting, the township board approved police millage ballot language for the August 5 primary. On the ballot, township voters will see the following, pending approval of the county clerk's office:

"Shall the Charter Township of Brandon be authorized to levy up to 4.00 mills for a period of five years, 2014 through 2018 inclusive, to finance police protection services? Approval of this proposal would permit a tax of $4.00 per $1,000 of taxable value on all taxable property in the township. The previously authorized police millage and millage increase expired December 31, 2013. It is estimated that this proposal would result in authorization to collect approximately $1,773,681 the first year if approved and levied."

The police millage is currently levied at 3.5286 mills due to Headlee Amendment rollbacks. That levy pays for 10.5 deputies (one deputy is shared with Independence Township) contracted through the Oakland County Sheriff's Office at an annual cost of $1,378,984. The current OCSO contract is good through 2015. The contract does not cover overtime for deputies, which Thurman said costs the township about $160,000-$170,000 annually, nor does it cover the cost of maintaining the substation in the township.

The current mills levied for police is not enough to cover all the costs associated with having a police presence in the township and for the past few years, the township board has supplemented the police fund with about $70,000 from cable franchise fees. In 2010, when the substation was staffed with 14 deputies, the board eliminated 3.5 deputy positions including a K-9 deputy, a deputy I desk officer and the school liaison officer to cut costs in the economic downturn. The school board later stepped up to fund the school liaison position, meaning technically the substation has 11.5 deputies; however, the school liaison officer is assigned to the schools only and does not do road patrol.

The 10.5 deputies now covered under the OCSO contract with the township is the lowest number that can be maintained and still retain a substation in a township with roughly 15,000 residents, which is already operating well below the FBI standard of one police officer per 1,000 residents.

OCSO Sgt. Pete Burkett, commander of the Brandon substation, spoke during Monday's meeting and approved of the language the board chose over the choice of another ballot language proposal crafted by the Michigan Townships Association.

"I've been on this merry-go-round before and the language from the MTA bombed," said Burkett, referring to a police millage that initially failed in another Oakland County community in which he worked for OCSO before coming to Brandon. "The clerk rewrote the language and it passed overwhelmingly, with 75 percent. The language needs to be simplified."

Trustee Ron Lapp agreed.

"I think it's important (the voters) understand what they're voting for is something they've approved in the past."

If passed, the millage should be enough to sustain 10.5 deputies in the township for the next five years, Thurman said, without use of cable franchise fees, and would allow for possible ramification from the Headlee millage reduction should there be one. This will be accomplished due to the 4 mills required to be levied the first year, resulting in an initial increase on the winter tax bill over the current 3.5286 mills levied (rolled back because of Headlee) and building the fund balance for police.

"Since we wrote up to 4 mills, we would be able to levy less mills after the first year," she said. "A lot of things come in to play when determining how many mills are needed to maintain current staffing levels, such as the consumer price index, new builds, taxable values coming uncapped and whether we have a rollback reduction...Even with the reduction of 3.5 deputies and support of the cable fund, the fund balance for police has fallen to a dangerously low level."

If the August millage proposal does not pass, Thurman said the board would attempt to put it on the November ballot. If that failed, there would be no police service in the township next year.

A 2010 township fiscal priorities survey returned by more than 800 respondents 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.