Source: Sherman Publications

Twp. keeps police staff as is, will request tax hike

by CJ Carnacchio

October 19, 2011

Oxford Township’s level of police staffing will remain the same for 2012, but officials say future cuts are unavoidable unless voters approve a millage increase next year.

“This board has done what it can with what it has,” said township Supervisor Bill Dunn.

Last week, township officials voted 4-2 to approve the 2012 contract with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), which includes a substation staff consisting of a detective sergeant, patrol investigator and 11 deputies.

Next year’s contract is expected to cost $1.645 million, not including overtime. The current year’s contract cost $1.6 million, again, not including overtime.

The vote included a decision to place a request for a police millage increase on the August 2012 primary ballot. A millage amount has not yet been determined.

Based on projections provided by the supervisor’s office, if the township continues to levy 2.9152 mills for police services, it will deplete the police budget’s fund balance to the point where it will have $129,326 by Dec. 31, 2014.

That may seem like a lot of money, but it really isn’t considering the township will have to utilize a projected $639,790 from its police fund balance over the next three years just to maintain current staffing levels.

“If you look at the fund balance, it doesn’t look very healthy,” Dunn said. “We only have a finite amount of money and our concern is to be able to have somewhat of a fund balance at the end of . . . our millage.”

The reason the township has to keep dipping into the police budget’s reserve monies is because the 2.9152-mill tax isn’t generating enough revenue due to steep decline in property values over the last few years.

To avoid making any staffing cuts, township officials asked voters to approve a five-year, 0.75-mill police tax increase in the November 2010 election. It failed by only two votes – 2,886 to 2,884.

However, the separate ballot request for a renewal of the 2.9152-mill police tax was approved.

OSCD Sgt. Scott Patterson, who commands the township substation, said voters found it “very confusing” that in order to keep their current level of police staffing, they had to approve both the tax renewal and the increase.

Township Treasurer Joe Ferrari indicated he talked to residents who voted ‘no’ simply because it was an increase. “They didn’t care about manpower,” he said.

As a result of the tax increase’s failure, the township was forced to cut the lieutenant’s position and one deputy from the substation.

Township Trustee Joe Bunting, who works as a police officer for the City of Birmingham, advocated keeping the existing substation staffing for now and giving residents another opportunity to vote on a millage increase.

“I think it’s very important we keep our manpower where it is,” he said. “Right now, everybody is getting by with what they have and they’re doing a really good job.”

However, Bunting believes the township can’t afford to make anymore cuts without risking safety and possibly, lives. Cutting more officers would put the township in the position of “getting by” on “luck,” which is “risky business,” in his opinion.

“There’s going to come a point in time where luck’s going to run out and something potentially could happen,” he said. “It’s not (meant) to be a scare tactic. That’s just a fact.”

Patterson told the board cutting more officers could have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the police services the township receives.

“Any type of cuts we make could (make it) that much more difficult to service the township in the capacity that we’ve (provided) for years,” he said.

Staff reductions could lead to patrolling becoming more of a “reactive” service than a “proactive” one, according to Patterson.

In other words, deputies would simply be responding to crimes after they happen, instead of preventing them by being a visible presence on the roads and in the community.

Trustee Mike Spisz asked if there’s anything the township can do to “help lower” the sheriff’s department’s costs “so that we’re not continually getting an increase year after year after year.”

“I’d like to make sure that we’ve done everything on the other side to say, ‘Okay, we’ve cut all our costs. We can’t cut anymore. Our only option at this point to maintain the services you have is to request another millage. There’s nothing else we can do,’” he said.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do,” responded Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe, who attended the meeting as both the department’s second-in-command and a resident of Oxford Township.

McCabe indicated the only thing the township can really do is talk to its representative on the 25-member county Board of Commissioners because that’s the body that sets the sheriff’s contract rates.

For instance, the county board determined the rates would go up just under 3 percent for next year.

“I’d like to see zero,” McCabe said. “I’d like to see a decrease.”

However, the undersheriff noted the county’s been able to keep its contract cost increases to a “little bit under 3 percent every year” for the past 20-plus years.

“We’ve kept the cost very, very low when you compare us to other police agencies,” McCabe said.

He used the cities of Rochester Hills and Troy, which have similar population sizes, as examples. Troy has its own police department with 115 officers and a budget of $27.5 million. Rochester Hills, which contracts with the sheriff’s department, is served by 57 deputies for $9 million.

McCabe noted that if Troy contracted with the sheriff’s department, it could have 114 officers for $18 million.

One of the reasons local police agencies cost so much more than county is benefits, according to McCabe.

For instance, sheriff’s employees pay anywhere between 12 and 20 percent of their health insurance premiums on top of their deductibles, which were also increased.

“The county has been very frugal in terms of trying to keep the costs down for everybody,” McCabe said.

Another reason county policing is less expensive is because even though the agency serves 16 communities via contracts, it only has one dispatch center, one lockup and one records bureau. “All those things that would be duplicated if it was a stand-alone department,” McCabe said.

This basically keeps the sheriff’s cost 20 to 25 percent less than everybody else, the undersheriff noted.

“We’re doing everything we can to control the costs,” he said. “Our costs have been controlled far better than anybody else.”

McCabe told township officials there might be a chance of reducing their contract costs if the county is successful in securing a 4 percent wage reduction over a three-year period from the sheriff’s deputies and command officers.

The county is currently in arbitration with the collective bargaining units that represent both employee groups.

“They’ve countered with wage freezes for three years,” McCabe noted.

Ferrari asked about the possibility of the township utilizing part-time deputies.

But McCabe said because of the union contract, part-timers can only be used at the courts, for building security, working the front desk in Pontiac, in the Marine Division and at county parks, not on road patrol in communities. Any expanded use of part-time deputies would have to be negotiated with the union and agreed to by both sides.

However, McCabe didn’t seem too keen on the idea of using part-time officers in contract communities.

“I’m not knocking part-time officers and part-time departments, don’t get me wrong, but the bottom-line is you get what you pay for,” he said.

The idea of utilizing part-time officers also didn’t set well with Bunting.

“Their heart and soul isn’t in their job because that’s not what they live on,” he said. “The guys that do it full-time have their heart and soul in it, and they’re going to put all their time and effort in the job.”