By Jim Newell
When Orion Township voters head to the polls on Aug. 4, they will be asked to decide on two public safety millages, one for police and one for the fire department.
Village of Lake Orion voters will also vote on the proposed fire millage, but not the police millage.
Police Operating Millage (Not Including the Village of Lake Orion)
The proposed millage calls for a renewal of 3 mills, which voters approved in 2016 and which expired in 2019, and a new, additional half-mill, according to ballot language.
If approved, the township would levy the millage for six years (Dec. 2020 – Dec. 2025) to support the township’s continued police services with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
Voters had originally approved 3 mills for police services in 2012, so the sheriff’s office has not asked for an increase in its operating millage for eight years.
The millage would be assessed on all taxable property within the township only, not on property within the Village of Lake Orion, which has its own police department and millage.
The millage is expected to generate $6,135,467.70 in the first year, if approved by voters, and would be used strictly for police services. The millage runs from December 2020 through December 2025.
While the millage would run for six years, Lt. Dan Toth, commander of the OCSO Orion Station, says the millage provides for the next decade of police services in Orion Township.
“This millage is the future of police protection in Orion Township, and that’s why we asked for a six-year millage,” Toth said. “That 3.5 mills will be sufficient going forward for the next decade. Even when the Headlee (Override) reduces it.”
The millage will provide for police services including all operations, wages, benefits, housing and capital expenditures.
According to the ballot language, “This proposal would allow a tax limitation increase and an approximate annual levy of $3.50 per $1,000 of the taxable value of all taxable property…If approved, a property with a taxable value of $100,000 would be taxed up to $350 for the millage.”
Fire and Emergency Medical Services Operating Millage
The fire millage would levy up to 3 mills on all taxable property in Orion Township and Village of Lake Orion for six years, starting in December 2020 through December 2025.
The 3 mills the township is asking for does represent an increase in the current fire millage.
The millage funds would be used for funding fire protection and emergency medical services (EMS), including Advanced Life Support and all related operations, wages, benefits, and capital expenditures, according to the approved ballot language.
If voters approve the millage, it would be levied at $3 per $1,000 of taxable value on all taxable property within the Township and Village of Lake Orion, with an $5,696,466.81 in the first year.
A property with a taxable value of $100,000 would be taxed up to $300 for the millage.
A portion of the $5.696 million collected would also be distributed to the Village of Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority under its TIF tax captures.
According to a presentation from Orion Township Fire Chief Rob Duke, the fire department’s current millage is 1.92 (including a Headlee rollback), generating $3.386 million. The fire department’s total revenues from all sources is $3.595 million.
In addition to the 1.92 mils for operating, the fire department had a 0.56 mils capital millage (0.6 mils approved in 2014 for equipment and capital outlay purchases) that expired.
In the presentation Duke also said that, compared to surrounding fire departments, Orion Township has a lower millage rate: Addison Twp. is at 3 mils, Auburn Hills is 2.5 mils, Brandon Twp. is 4.39 mils, Independence Twp. is 3.45 mils, Rochester Hills is 3 mils and Oxford Twp. is at 3.5 mils.
Orion Township does have four fire stations, more than other surrounding communities except for Rochester Hills, which has five. However, Orion Township has a population estimated at near 40,000, while Rochester Hills population is closer to 75,000.
Over the past 10 years, the Orion Twp. Fire Department has seen a 124 percent increase in calls for service: from 1,616 total calls in 2010 to 3,622 in 2020 (anticipated). There were 3,141 calls for service in 2019.
If the millage is approved, the fire department plans more than $1.1 million in capital purchases each year from 2021 through 2026, except for in 2025 when the estimated capital purchases are $935,000.
Larger item purchases include five new fire engines and a tanker, estimated at $600,000 each; three ambulances and one replacement ($250,000 each); two fire inspection vehicles ($68,000 total); thermal imaging cameras ($45,000); four staff cars in 2026 ($200,000 total); a rescue boat ($150,000); and in 2023, replacing a 2015 command vehicle for $70,000.
Other purchases include regularly updating rescue equipment, turnout gear, air bottles, compression devices, AEDs and other equipment.
There would also be an increase in fire personnel expenditures. Currently, the department spends approximately $2.756 million on fire personnel. That would increase to $3.675 million if the millage passes.