It’s official: a sheriff’s deputy costs Washtenaw County $176,108 per year. That includes $74,000 in salary and $45,000 in fringes, plus indirect costs like $20,000 for central dispatch—but not the average $10,000 in overtime a deputy earns each year.

The cost of a deputy has been the most fought-over number in county government. In 2006, three townships that contract with the sheriff for local police services sued the county over a price increase.

The county won the lawsuit, but only after spending $1.2 million in legal fees. To avoid any recurrence, sheriff Jerry Clayton put in a year and a half documenting the $176,000 figure. “We generated the numbers because we provide the service,” says Clayton. “But we also worked closely with the county’s finance office to make sure our assumptions aligned with the county’s.” And they also made sure the numbers were thoroughly vetted by the Police Services Steering Committee (PSSC), which includes township officials. “There are still a few areas of concern,” admits Clayton. “But we have 90 percent agreement, and this is a democracy.”

Now comes the hard part: arriving at a fair price. Because, as PSSC member and Superior Township supervisor Bill McFarlane says, “a fair price is more of a subjective than an objective judgment.”

That’s an understatement. The townships currently contract for a total of seventy-four deputies, at $150,594 each. That’s up just 4 percent from last year, but nearly double what a deputy cost in 2004. And with the county projecting deficits of $12 and $16 million in 2012 and 2013, it’s likely that the sheriff’s office will once again be facing cuts—potentially including the $6.4 million in general fund dollars that cover the costs the townships don’t.

“We have to make sure the cost is shared as fairly and equitably as possible,” says county administrator Verna McDaniel, “but we’re facing a deficit—again—and we have to be realistic about what we can do.”

Two Ann Arbor commissioners want the price raised. “I hope police services get cut,” says Leah Gunn. “It’s not a mandated service, and we subsidize the contracted deputies plus the twelve general fund deputies and dispatch.”

But though they say they’ll fight for it, neither Gunn nor fellow Ann Arbor commissioner Barbara Bergman expects the price to go up much. “The majority of the board supports subsidizing police services,” Bergman says.

Superior Township’s Bill McFarlane argues that some subsidy is fair. “Consideration hasn’t been given to the value a contract deputy brings to the county as a whole,” says McFarlane. “My deputies go to Ann Arbor to help out, and deputies were there when the banks and the medical marijuana dispensary were robbed…it has to be acknowledged that the county on the whole is benefiting from contract deputies.”

Despite the differences between the cities and townships, administrator McDaniel says she doesn’t see this round of negotiations being as contentious as the last round. “The townships have had a lot of input,” she explains. “They’ve been at the table all along.”

Most have—with one worrisome exception. Ypsilanti Township, the biggest user of contract deputies and the leader of the failed lawsuit, has two representatives on the committee. But supervisor Brenda Stumbo hasn’t been to a meeting since July, and clerk Karen Lovejoy Roe hasn’t been since the July before that.

With a tax base devastated by the loss of five factories, Ypsi Township already has shrunk its police services contract from forty-four deputies to thirty-one. In November, voters passed a 1.5 mill tax that averted further cuts—but the township also owes the county $2 million for fees it refused to pay while challenging the price increase. How they’ll repay that Stumbo won’t say.