As reported in The Chronicle’s preview of the upcoming Nov. 18 Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting, the agenda includes an item to be presented by Sheriff Jerry Clayton, listed on the agenda as a “Recommendation of Policy for Adding Contract Deputies.”
At last week’s administrative briefing, few details were available about Clayton’s presentation. So when county administrator Bob Guenzel mentioned to commissioners that Clayton would be discussing the item at the county’s Police Services Steering Committee meeting, held on Monday, The Chronicle made a point to attend.
The issue of contract deputies has been contentious – one that resulted in a years-long legal battle between the county and three townships. The dispute has centered on how much municipalities have to pay to contract with the sheriff’s department for deputy patrols, and what the true cost of providing those patrols is – a price versus cost issue. A policy change could be significant, if it addressed these issues.
At Monday’s meeting of the police services steering committee, which includes several township supervisors, public safety officials and four county commissioners, Clayton made it clear that any recommendation for broader policy change is a work in progress.
Clayton said that his presentation at Wednesday’s board of commissioners meeting will be informational only, related to adding contract deputies in Scio Township. He then plans to bring a formal resolution on that issue to the board of commissioners at their Dec. 2 meeting.
More broadly, he asked the police services steering committee to continue working on a recommendation for the cost and price of contract deputies. He hopes the recommendation would also propose a process for adding contract deputies, when a municipality makes that request. Changing the way that process is managed would be a policy issue that requires approval by commissioners.
Separately, the committee discussed a defeated millage proposal in Ypsilanti Township, which could mean the loss of nearly a quarter of their current deputy patrols. “It will have an impact on everyone in the county,” said Bill McFarlane, Superior Township’s supervisor.
But first, a look at the immediate needs of Scio Township.
Public Safety in Scio Township
In 2006, Scio Township voters defeated a public safety millage proposal that would have levied up to 1.945 mills for police and fire services. Following that defeat, the township’s board of trustees formed a 15-member citizens committee to study Scio’s public safety needs and to look at ways to finance those services. Without a millage, police and fire services were paid for out of the township’s general fund.
The committee recommended a scaled-back millage proposal, focused only on fire safety. In November of 2008, voters approved a 0.9-mill tax for that purpose. The millage freed up general fund dollars previously used to pay for fire services, and township leaders hoped to redirect those dollars to pay for additional deputy patrols.
Since then, Scio Township has requested three additional deputies, adding to the five sheriff’s deputies that are already contracted with the township. However, there’s not been a clear mechanism for doing that.
At Monday’s meeting, sheriff Jerry Clayton said that a several funding changes have led him to come up with a proposal to handle the request from Scio for three more deputies – which he’ll be making to the board of commissioners. The first of those funding changes is that a state grant now funding three road patrol deputies will be reduced, and will provide funds for only two deputies in 2010. Also, Willow Run public schools – which is grappling with a budget deficit – is cutting funds for a deputy who works in the schools. And finally, Augusta Township officials chose not to put a millage on the ballot that would have funded one contract deputy, so that funding source will be eliminated as of January 2010. That means there are a total of three deputy positions in the sheriff’s department that will be losing their funding sources, Clayton said.
Those three deputy positions, Clayton said, could be reallocated to Scio Township, which now has the general fund dollars freed up though the fire services millage to pay for them. The change would be cost-neutral for the county, and would save the jobs of the deputies. That’s the proposal he’ll be making to the board of commissioners, he said – first as a presentation on Wednesday to get their feedback, then as a formal proposal on Dec. 2.
After hearing Clayton’s proposal at Monday’s meeting, Pat Kelly, supervisor of Dexter Township, asked, “Why would anybody not be in favor of this?”
“Jeff’s not here,” quipped county commissioner Wes Prater, referring to his colleague Jeff Irwin, who has been vocal about the need for the price that townships pay for contract deputies to reflect the actual cost of employing them.
Broader Policy Issues
The county’s 2010 budget – which commissioners have not yet approved, but will consider at their Nov. 18 meeting – includes funding for 81 contract deputies. Townships and other municipalities that contract with the sheriff’s department for these patrols will pay about $144,000 per deputy. That’s up 2% from the 2009 rate. In 2011, another 4% increase is scheduled.
But what if more deputy patrols are requested, beyond the current 81 covered in the 2010/2011 budget? Or what happens if a township that’s contracted for a certain number of deputies doesn’t have the money to fund them, as is the case with Ypsilanti Township? As long as there’s a steady state, with an equal supply and demand, there’s not an issue – but that’s not always the case, sheriff Jerry Clayton said.
The situation with Scio Township works, Clayton said, because Scio has funding to absorb three deputy positions that will be available because of cuts elsewhere. However, he said, the county needs to develop a system to manage the addition or subtraction of deputies as needed. That might include second-tier pricing, higher than the current price of a contract deputy, he said.
The police services steering committee had previously charged a financial subcommittee with evaluating the cost of deputy patrols. That group includes county commissioner Kristin Judge; Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran; Saline police chief Paul Bunten; Ypsilanti Township’s police services administrator Mike Radzik; and a representative from the county’s budget office. They had submitted a recommendation to the full committee several weeks ago.
At Monday’s meeting, Clayton said that instead of taking that recommendation to the board of commissioners, he wanted the subcommittee to reconvene and broaden their scope. The formula they’d devised for coming up with a price included all direct costs associated a deputy, a portion of the indirect costs and none of the overhead costs. Clayton wanted the subcommittee to go back and look at other issues –like the cost of maintaining a fleet of vehicles – and work that into their recommendation.
Additionally, he wants the subcommittee to tackle the issue of how to manage the addition or subtraction of deputy patrols, and make a recommendation about that process, including the second-tier pricing issue. He said he expects they’ll have a “spirited discussion.”
Dexter Township supervisor Pat Kelly said she felt comfortable with that, since Moran would be on the subcommittee representing the interests of townships who currently contract with the sheriff’s department. “Don’t miss that meeting, Mike!” she joked.
The subcommittee will bring back a recommendation to the police services steering committee, which will then forward it to the board of commissioners. The board will have final approval over any changes in pricing and policy.
Ypsilanti Township’s Millage Defeat
Bill McFarlane, Superior Township supervisor, said he was sorry that the public safety millage in Ypsilanti Township had been defeated on Nov. 3. “It will have an impact on everyone in the county,” he said.
McFarlane asked how it would affect the number of contract deputies in Ypsilanti Township. Brenda Stumbo, the township’s supervisor, reported that Ypsilanti Township expected to lose 10 of its 38 deputies as of Jan. 1, because the township didn’t have the funds to pay for those positions without revenue from the millage.
The impact will be felt throughout the county, McFarlane said, because the 12 so-called “general fund deputies” – positions that are not being paid for by a specific municipality, and who are deployed throughout the county – will now be called on to respond to emergencies in Ypsilanti Township.
Sheriff Jerry Clayton said that he and Saline police chief Paul Bunten had discussed the overall decline in the number of law enforcement officers countywide, looking at all the various police departments, while total calls for service are increasing. In particular, the situation in Ypsilanti Township “concerns us greatly,” Clayton said.
He added that he was an optimist, and wasn’t willing to give up those 10 deputies yet – there might be some other options, he said.
Talking with The Chronicle after Monday’s meeting, Clayton clarified just what those options might be. He reported that the sheriff’s department will be coming in under budget for 2009 – the exact figures will be released later this year, he said – and those extra dollars might be used to offset the cost of the patrols in Ypsilanti Township. The department was able to generate new revenue this year by taking back its civil processing services, which were previously outsourced, Clayton said. Those services include handling foreclosures and serving court papers.
There might be other ways to generate new revenue next year too, Clayton said. That could possibly allow the department to absorb some of those Ypsilanti Township positions on an interim basis, allowing the township to put a public safety millage on the ballot again in 2010. If it passes, then they’d have veteran officers on board ready to return as contract deputies for the township in 2011. He noted that one of the issues related to the cost of contract deputies is the question of who pays for training, especially for new officers.
In general, Clayton said his two priorities are maintaining public safety for all county residents, and preserving jobs for his staff.