Oxford struggles to pay bills

The Detroit News

January 7, 2000 Friday Final Edition

SECTION: METRO; Pg. 4C

Oxford struggles to pay bills: Officials stumped by year-end shortfall as they eliminate police, fire department

OXFORD -- Oxford Township found money Thursday to meet last month's police payroll, but officials are combing through other outstanding bills that have some among them worried about how much more they'll have to shell out.

The troubled Oxford Police Fire and Emergency Commission, which goes out of business this month, exceeded its $2.2-million annual budget back in November, according to township Treasurer Joseph G. Ferrari. Moreover, bills are still coming in.

The commission provides services to both Oxford village and township, but will fold Feb. 1.

"We're basically trying to close up shop," said Ferrari. "We really don't know what the bills add up to just yet."

The township is reviewing the new invoices to "make sure they aren't for services that won't be needed after this month," he said. Some services will now be picked up by the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.

The police payroll was met Thursday by transferring $28,188 from the township's building fund. The village will pay an additional $8,400.

Ferrari said officials are stumped by the year-end shortfall, but Township Trustee Susan Bellairs fears the worst is yet to come.

"They couldn't make the year-end payroll and that tells me that there's a lot more out there that hasn't come in yet," said Bellairs. "Our legal fees have been running about $1,000 a day or about $30,000 a month. I can't even imagine what they might amount to."

The commission, which hired six attorneys in 1999 for legal advice, added a seventh this week. Bankruptcy attorney Stephen Gross will help dissolve the commission and assist with pending fiscal problems.

Those problems include $548,000 in federal grant money the U.S. Justice Department says was misspent and must be repaid.

Township voters, weary of such problems, rejected millage renewals for the police department twice last year. Beginning Feb. 1, the township will pay for patrols by county deputies under a $1.1-million annual contract that includes vehicle maintenance and other service.

Oxford village plans to finance its own police department, using members of the old Oxford force who don't transfer over to the sheriff's department.

Village Clerk Rose Bejma presented township officials Wednesday night with $151,374 in bills for the commission and operation of the police department.

From Bejma's estimates, $87,000 of that will likely involve attorney fees. Township attorney Gary Rentrop is expected to submit a bill for at least $24,000 in services; attorney Howard Shiffman around $8,000 for his work on labor matters; and attorney Alan Wolf should claim at least $18,000 for his probe of alleged misconduct by former police Chief Gary Ford.

The commission had budgeted $50,000 for legal fees for the entire year.