STANTON — Court security is safe for three more months.
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to extend funding court security through the second quarter of the fiscal year — April 1 — for 8th Judicial Circuit Court, 64B District Court and Probate/Juvenile Court, all of which are housed in the judicial complex in Stanton.
Commissioners are hoping voters will approve a $1.5 million proposal to maintain and increase county sheriff’s coverage for the next five years — including court security.
Voters on Feb. 28 will decide whether to approve a property tax increase of up to 1 mill to generate about $1.564 million over five years to provide funding for the law enforcement function of the Sheriff’s Department.
Court security was slated to be eliminated as part of budget cuts Sept. 26, but commissioners voted to extend those positions until the end of December — the first quarter of the fiscal year — while they look for $85,000 to pay for the services all year.
Deputy Rich Waite, who works as a court rover, and part-time court security deputies Bruce Schnepp — a retired Greenville Department of Public Safety director — and Pete Russell would lose their jobs if court security is eliminated. No one would be stationed at the court complex entrance to check for weapons.
The county won’t have to pay any additional election costs for the millage proposal because the Feb. 28 vote will take place during the presidential primary election.
Sheriff Bill Barnwell said an additional three to five road patrol deputies would be added to the current roster of 13 deputies paid from the county’s general fund, not including detectives and sergeants.
County Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer said millage revenue also would fund $125,000 of equipment purchases per year for each of the five years, including uniforms, vehicles and weapons.
Crystal, Eureka, Montcalm and Sidney townships currently pay for dedicated patrols from four additional deputies. Barnwell said he won’t be surprised if those four townships drop their contracts for sheriff’s coverage if the millage passes.
The sheriff’s department has endured budget cuts for years, including the loss of another road patrol position this year. Barnwell said the department’s road patrol ranks are stretched thin and further cuts likely would mean the end of round-the-clock coverage.
Hyzer said further cuts are possible next year when the next county budget is adopted due to falling revenue from housing jail inmates.
Kalamazoo County is building a new jail that will open at the end of 2013, leading to $234,000 in lost revenue next year for Montcalm County from lodging overflow inmates in Stanton. The U.S. Marshal’s Service also recently signed a contract for lodging federal prisoners with Newaygo County, directing more revenue away from Montcalm County.