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Posted: 07/30/14

Washington trustees OK
police millage proposal

Voters to choose whether to double millage for more deputies

Observer Staff Writer
      To double the police presence in Washington Township, voters will decide in November if they want to double a millage.
       The Washington Township Board of Trustees voted 6-0 to approve of a ballot proposal that will ask residents whether they want to increase the police millage from one mill to two.
       Treasurer Linda Verellen was not present for the July 23 meeting.
       Supervisor Dan O'Leary said he believes an increase is needed because there is only one deputy on duty at a time in a 36 square-mile community with multiple retailers, more than 23,000 residents and a major freeway nearby.
       "It's really a choice," he said. "Are you satisfied with the level of service you get today at the price you get today, or do you want to double that up for a higher price."
       If approved, the millage increase would mean residents pay $1 more for every $1,000 of the taxable value of their property. A home with a $150,000 taxable value would pay an additional $150 a year if all two mills were levied.
       "That is a lot of money, I recognize that," he said. "That is less than one stereo system stolen, and it's a lot more than that in terms of the drug issue."
       The current millage collects just over $1 million in revenue to fund a contract with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office. The contract provides for 7.2 full-time equivalent deputies to be on duty in Washington.
       This equates to one deputy per 24-hour shift a day, but only one deputy per shift two days of the week. As a result, deputies handle around 28 runs per day with an average response time of 8.35 minutes.
       O'Leary said response times can vary since all it takes is one retail fraud or accident on M-53 to tie up the deputy.
       "We've had situations where someone is waiting 30 minutes for a cop," O'Leary said. "It's not the cop's fault, we're understaffed."
       O'Leary said the problem is so bad that fire department personnel have had to manage traffic and crowds at accident scenes.
       In a letter, County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham confirmed that deputies have little time to conduct pro-active policing, traffic enforcement or selective enforcement due to the high volume of calls.
       He said this causes 35 percent of the calls to be handled by deputies not contracted by Washington Township. A total of 9,019 calls were made in 2013.
       "When you look at average response times, average time to handle a call and average calls per day, the majority of the deputy's shift is accounted for by responding to calls," Wickersham said. "Many of these calls require two deputies."
       Washington sits at .23 officers per 1,000 residents, while similarly sized communities like Commerce and Whitelake townships have .86 and .79 officers, respectively.
       Wickersham said around 14 officers would need to be added to accommodate for Washington's population, or double the current level.
       O'Leary said should voters approve of the millage, a contract could be drafted and signed with the sheriff in 45 days to double the service.
       O'Leary said the township wouldn't have to raise the millage to the maximum of two mills if it's not needed. Conversely, if the proposal is voted down, the millage will remain at one mill.
       "We're paying more for a library than we're paying for police," he said. "That is ludicrous and unacceptable."
       The current contract with the sheriff's office costs $983,528, and any remaining funds from the millage are used to build up a fund balance the township can use to fund its own police department should the sheriff's office pull out.
       O'Leary said the township's position has been to contract for policing, saying it is the most efficient and cost-effective way to provide the service for a community the size of Washington.
       "Having our own police department is too costly," O'Leary said. "Towns with their own police departments cost far more per customer than towns that use their county sheriff."
       On top of 24/7 policing, a contract with the sheriff's office includes services like the jail, reserve units, narcotics, computer crimes and dispatch.
       Regardless of the vote, the millage will expire in 2017.

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Retrieved 7/29/2015 at 9:30:19 AM.
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