Council votes to repay Justice Department

A check for $31,203.35 from the Village of Oxford will soon be heading to U.S. Department of Justice.
At a special meeting Thursday night, council voted unanimously to pay the village’s 22.83 percent portion of the $136,677 the Oxford Public Fire and EMS Commission owes for misused Community Oriented Policing Services grant funds paid to its predecessor the Oxford Emergency Safety Authority in the mid-to-late 1990s.
“We’re going to pay it back in one lump sum,” said village President Steve Allen. “I’m hoping we send the check within the next week.”
The federal COPS grants were supposed to be used by the now-defunct, joint township-village police department to hire new, additional officers.
However, the Justice Department determined the money was instead used to replace local funding for existing officers – an improper practice known as “supplanting.”
To rectify this outstanding matter, the Justice Department sent officials an Oct. 9 letter giving them the choice – either repay the full $136,677 owed or spend that amount hiring additional police officers.
Council was considering dedicating monies equal to its portion of the debt toward hiring a fourth full-time village police officer.
However, Allen said village and township officials were recently informed by the Justice Department that is not an acceptable option because the village already budgeted for a fourth officer in the 2003-04 fiscal year, which began July 1.
OPFEC attorney Chris Lievois said the Justice Department’s position is an officer doesn’t count as a new, additional officer under the COPS grant guidelines if the position was already part of an approved budget.
Once the position is part of a budget, it’s considered an existing officer, part of the “baseline,” Lievois said.
“We didn’t want to get into the same situation we had previously,” explained Allen.
In order to satisfy the COPS debt, Allen said the village “would have to hire a fourth and fifth officer.”
“It wouldn’t have been economically feasible nor would it have been fair to the fifth officer,” Allen explained. “If our revenue sharing (from the state) got cut to the point where we were in deep mess, that would be the first officer to go. It’s part of the union contract. That just wouldn’t be fair.”
As it is, the village has been “holding off” on hiring a fourth full-time officer “because we don’t know what’s going to happen with revenue sharing,” the village president added.
Allen said council decided it “would be cleaner to terminate the original agreement” with the Justice Department by repaying the COPS debt.
“If we ever want COPS grants in the future we’ll do it clean as a new department rather than inherit the sins of the past,” he explained.
Supervisor Bill Dunn said the township is proposing a different approach to satisfy its $105,473.65 COPS debt.
The township encountered the same problem as the village in that officials we’re contemplating applying monies equal to their portion of COPS debt toward hiring an additional full-time Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputy in 2004, a position already budgeted for by the board in September.
To satisfy the debt, Dunn said the township is proposing using the $105,473.65 to hire an additional deputy in 2005, a position not yet budgeted for.
“Hopefully, the Justice Department will find this acceptable,” the supervisor said. “It’s still a better alternative than writing a check. I’d rather have an extra deputy on the road than nothing.”
Lievois said although the Justice Department has indicated both the township’s and village’s proposals for settling the COPS debt are “acceptable methods,” no specific proposal has been formally approved yet.