Vote Coming on Police Services Lawsuit

Washtenaw, township boards asked to approve proposed payment

The outcome of a vote at tonight’s Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting could mean another step toward ending a years-long legal battle over the cost of sheriff deputy patrols.

A resolution is expected to be added as a supplemental agenda item at Wednesday night’s meeting, asking commissioners to approve the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator. At issue is how much is owed by Ypsilanti Township and August Township to the county for police services that were provided by the county in 2006. That was the year those townships, along with Salem Township, filed a lawsuit against the county over the price of contract deputies.

While county representatives previously indicated they were seeking around $2 million, the recommendation calls for payment to the county of $749,427 – the bulk of that from Ypsilanti Township. In addition to approval from the county board, the recommendation would also need to be voted on by the boards of both townships. Those meetings are expected to occur next week.

On a related note, the county board is also expected to take a final vote at Wednesday’s meeting to set the price that municipalities will pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015.

Police Services Lawsuit: A Brief Background

The issue of how much the county charges for providing sheriff deputy patrols under contract with municipalities goes back decades. It came to a head in 2006, when three townships – Augusta, Salem and Ypsilanti – filed a lawsuit against the county, disputing the amount that was charged for police services. Over the years, court rulings have gone against the townships – they ultimately appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in 2010 refused to hear the case.

The court has held that the townships are liable to the county for additional amounts to cover police services that the county provided to them between Jan. 1 and Dec. 5, 2006 – at $24 an hour more than the townships had paid under a previous contract. When the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, it was sent back to 38th Circuit Court Chief Judge Joseph Costello to rule on a judgment request.

Costello told the county that it needed to provide evidence documenting the specific number of hours of police services provided to the three townships during that time period. Then in mid-2010, Salem Township agreed to settle its part of the lawsuit and pay the additional $24 per hour for the police services provided to it during that time period – totaling $48,000.

The county asked the court to enter a judgment for $24 per hour, plus interest and costs previously awarded by the court to the county. That amount totaled $2,103,822 for Ypsilanti Township, which used 44 deputies in 2006, and $95,932 for Augusta Township, which used two deputies. Ypsilanti and Augusta townships asked for a trial on the issue of whether they were liable for additional payments at all, but the court denied that request.

Recommendations from the Facilitator

Earlier this year, Costello ordered the remaining two townships and the county into non-binding facilitation before James Rashid, a retired Wayne County Circuit Court judge. Rashid’s business, Judicial Resource Services, provides mediation and facilitation for these kinds of cases. The facilitation meeting took place June 22.

Three people represented the county at the June 22 meeting: Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel; Jill Wheaton, an attorney with the law firm Dykema that’s been handling the case for the county; and county board chair Conan Smith. In a phone interview this week, Hedger told The Chronicle that they spent nearly 12 hours there, as Rashid met separately with representatives from the townships and the county.

The outcome was a recommendation that the county receive $749,427 from the townships – including $732,927 from Ypsilanti Township, and $16,500 from Augusta Township.

During a June 28 agenda briefing, the county board met in executive session to discuss pending litigation. Though details of that discussion haven’t been disclosed, it’s likely the board was briefed about the recommendations by Hedger.

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Hedger said a resolution regarding the recommendation would be presented at the board’s Ways & Means committee on Wednesday as a supplemental agenda item. [All resolutions are voted on twice by the board: first at the meeting of Ways & Means, a committee of the entire board; and finally at the regular board meeting. Ways & Means and regular board meetings are held back-to-back, but typically a resolution that's passed at the Ways & Means meeting is considered at the regular board meeting two weeks later. The board is currently on a summer schedule, meeting only once a month.]

If the resolution passes at Ways & Means on Wednesday, Hedger said it would require a vote by two-thirds of the board – eight of the 11 commissioners – to move it for consideration at the regular board meeting later that evening. Citing attorney-client privilege, Hedger said he couldn’t discuss advice he’s given to commissioners about the recommendation.

The county is not seeking payment of its legal fees from the townships. The county has spent over $1 million in legal expenses related to the lawsuit since 2006. On Tuesday, Hedger said he could not immediately provide a current tally of those costs.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Doug Winters – an attorney who has represented the townships in this lawsuit – declined to comment about the recommendation from the facilitator. The Augusta Township board is expected to vote on the recommendation at its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 12. The Ypsilanti Township board’s next regular meeting is on Tuesday, July 19 – a special meeting will likely be scheduled on the issue, Winters said, possibly on the morning of Wednesday, July 13.

Sheriff’s Contract Deputy Pricing

On Wednesday’s agenda for the board’s regular meeting is a final vote to set the price that municipalities will pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The police services steering committee recommended setting the price in 2012 for a police services unit (PSU) at $150,594. The board had been briefed on the recommendation by sheriff Jerry Clayton at a May 19 working session, then gave initial approval to this proposal at its June 1 meeting.

The price in 2012 would remain unchanged from the 2011 rate of $150,594, which was a 4% increase over 2010 rates. In each of the following three years, the price per PSU increases about 1%: to $152,100 in 2013; $153,621 in 2014; and $155,157 in 2015.

In late 2010, the committee brought forward a recommendation to the board that set the cost of providing a PSU at $176,108. At its Dec. 1 meeting, the county board voted to accept that amount, with the understanding that commissioners would need to make a much harder decision at a later date – about the price that the county would charge for a PSU. The difference between the cost of a PSU and the amount charged – roughly $25,500, based on current figures – would be covered by the county.

For additional background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage:

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