Voters to decide on Montcalm County law enforcement millage Tuesday


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 9:58 pm on Friday, February 24, 2012

Law enforcement Millage vote

On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to approve a property tax increase of up to 1 mill to generate $1.564 million over five years — through 2016 — to provide funding for the law enforcement function of the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Department.

Why?

The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners cut $400,000 from the sheriff’s department budget last year, including $85,000 for court security.

What happens if the millage is approved

Up to four 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. Millage revenue also would fund patrol vehicles, equipment and related supplies. Court security would not be eliminated.

What happens if the millage fails

Court security may be eliminated and a full-time deputy court rover and two part-time court security deputies would lose their jobs. No one would be stationed at the court complex entrance to check for weapons. Additional cuts will take place next year, likely eliminating 24/7 road patrol coverage.

 

STANTON — Tuesday is decision day for local court security and law enforcement.

Voters will be asked whether to approve a property tax increase of up to 1 mill to generate $1.564 million over five years — through 2016 — to provide funding for Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement.

If the millage passes, up to four road patrol deputies would be added to the sheriff’s current roster of 13 deputies paid from the county’s general fund, not including detectives and sergeants.

Court security — which is set to be eliminated March 31 — also would be continued for 8th Judicial Circuit Court, 64B District Court and Probate/Juvenile Court, all of which are housed in the judicial complex in Stanton.

If the millage fails, court security would be eliminated and Deputy Rich Waite, who works as a court rover, and part-time court security deputies Pete Russell and Bruce Schnepp would lose their jobs. No one would be stationed at the court complex entrance to check for weapons.

The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners cut $400,000 from the sheriff’s department budget last year, including $85,000 for court security. Commissioners have voted twice to extend court security — first until the end of last December and again until the end of March — while they struggled to find a solution.

Sheriff Bill Barnwell said additional cuts will be made next year, likely eliminating 24/7 road patrol coverage. Budget cuts are nothing new for the sheriff’s office.

“We have basically been holding our own for many years,” Barnwell said. “We really started to feel the budget effects after Sept. 11, 2001.”

Revenue history

In 2002, Montcalm County was facing a budget deficit including possible layoffs. The Board of Commissioners brought a millage proposal before voters requesting a .5 mill increase in the general fund millage along with a .5 Headlee override — both of which would have resulted in about 1 full mill for operations.

Voters rejected the proposal. As a result, cuts were made throughout the Montcalm County budget. Three sheriff’s deputies lost their jobs.

In an effort to generate more revenue, the Montcalm County Jail began to house inmates from other county jails., which helped avoid more cuts over the years.

Kalamazoo County sent Montcalm County the most inmates over the years. However, Kalamazoo County recently broke ground on a new jail which is set to open next year and can house more inmates. So Montcalm County is losing that revenue source.

Other county jails are also housing overflow inmates from other counties in the hopes of generating more revenue. These jails are also lowering their daily jail rate, making housing jail inmates a competitive market.

Montcalm County began housing federal inmates about five years ago, which dramatically enhanced county revenue. However, last year the U.S. Marshal’s Office notified Montcalm County that all federal inmates were being moved to the Newaygo County Jail due to a new 10-year contract.

“While we knew that this revenue stream was not forever, we had hoped it would sustain us until the economy improved,” Barnwell said. “However, with cuts in revenue sharing, increased medical costs and reduced taxable value on homes and property, there simply was no other alternative than to either make more cuts or request a millage increase. Any further cuts in sheriff’s patrols will jeopardize the ability to staff 24/7 patrols in the county.”

Here’s a look at Montcalm County Jail revenue from housing out-of-county inmates over the years:
• 2006 — $237,324
• 2007— $542,022
• 2008— $870,296
• 2009— $889,521
• 2010— $852,714
• 2011— $493,808

Decision time

The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office lost one deputy, two corrections officers and more in last year’s county budget cuts. Now court security is set to be eliminated.

District 2 Commissioner Tom Lindeman cast the lone dissenting vote last November when commissioners voted to allow the sheriff’s law enforcement millage on the ballot.

“I think this is a general fund supplement and I think we are in need of supplementing our general fund, not just law enforcement,” Lindeman said.

However, Montcalm County Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer said commissioners went on record with a resolution supporting the use of general fund and millage dollars to continue 24/7 road patrols, along with adding additional officers to the sheriff’s department.

Barnwell thinks now is the time to request the millage from local voters instead of waiting until citizen safety is jeopardized by making road patrol cuts.

“Hopefully the citizens of the county will feel this millage is worth the costs,” Barnwell said.

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