Council passes budget, keeps tax rate same

Oxford Village’s 2016-17 budget, which takes effect July 1, barely passed last week in a 3-2 council vote.

Councilmen Tom Kennis and Erik Dolan voted against it because they believe there’s more work to be done as far as cutting costs and saving the money.

“Fiscally, we are not solid as a village,” Kennis said. “We’re not running this village (like) a business.

“If we don’t move forward and make proper business decisions . . . we’re not going to be around two years from now,” he noted. “We’ve only begun to fight – at least I have – because what we’re doing is unacceptable.”

“I would agree with you, Tom,” replied village President Sue Bossardet, who voted for the budget.

“While the budget adopted last night did include some positive cost-saving measures, I don’t believe that it went far enough,” Dolan told this reporter. “I feel that there are several areas where we could have made sweeping, cost-cutting changes while still providing a high level of services to our residents, but we failed to act on those issues.”

One of those areas is police dispatch services. More on that later.

Council approved a general fund budget of $2.098 million, a police budget of $908,760 and a police dispatch center budget totaling $338,300.

The general fund budget includes $775,000 that gets transferred to the police budget and the police budget includes $300,000 that gets transferred to the dispatch budget.

Minus the dispatch transfer, the police budget is $608,760, which means the actual combined budget for police and dispatch services is $947,060.

The 2016-17 budget is projected to leave the general, police and dispatch funds with a combined fund balance of $473,584, which equals 20 percent of the expenses.

Other budgets approved by council last week include $368,500 for the Downtown Development Authority, $888,453 for the sewer fund and $959,041 for the water fund.

To support the general fund budget, the village kept the property tax rate at 10.62 mills, which equals $10.62 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

That’s been the village rate since 2010.

One of the cost-saving measures approved as part of the general fund budget is closing the village office on Fridays beginning July 1.

This will save approximately $5,000, according village Manager Joe Young.

But that’s small potatoes compared to another potential cost-saving measure that’s still being considered by council members – closing the local police dispatch center and contracting with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office for the service.

“The dispatch issue is very much alive,” said Dolan, who will be touring the county center on June 2. “I expect a vote in the short term. It will be an agenda item.”

On May 5, council heard presentations from both village police and the sheriff’s office regarding dispatch services, but officials have yet to make any decisions.

The $338,300 dispatch budget approved by council for the upcoming fiscal year is for the local center housed inside the police station on W. Burdick St. It’s staffed by three full-time dispatchers and eight part-timers. The center dispatches calls for the Oxford and Lake Orion police departments. It does not handle fire and emergency medical calls.

The sheriff’s office told council it could provide police dispatch services for $23,246 from July 1 through March 31, 2017 and $31,115 from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.

Dolan has made it no secret that he favors contracting with the county.

“I think it is fiscally, the right thing to do for the community,” he said.

“We need to be constantly and proactively evaluating our operations for more efficient ways of providing services so that when those unanticipated costs or emergencies do transpire, we are prepared to deal with them,” Dolan told this reporter. “The mentality of ‘we’ve always done it this way’ is not an acceptable method of operating a local government.”

Proponents of keeping the local dispatch center argue it offers “intangibles” that go beyond cost as dispatchers do a laundry list of things, in addition to handling calls, to assist police officers and citizens.

A total of 29 townships, villages and cities currently receive 9-1-1 emergency dispatch services from the county.

Auburn Hills just voted to contract with the sheriff for dispatch services. The county will assume operations around July 11.

County dispatchers have been handling police calls in Oxford Township (outside the village) since 2000 and all fire and emergency medical calls in both the township and village since April 2014.