Montcalm County law enforcement millage fails

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:13 am on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Part-time court security deputy Bruce Schnepp checks over Greenville resident Antonio Stewart during his visit to the Montcalm County Court Complex. Schnepp, along with two other court security officers, are expected to lose their jobs with the failing of the law enforcement millage. — Daily News/Cory Smith

STANTON — Montcalm County sheriff’s officials were in a somber mood Tuesday night as a law enforcement millage was narrowly shot down by voters.

A 1 mill property tax increase request lost 4,205 to 4,085 — a difference of only 120 votes.

The millage passed in Belvidere, Cato, Eureka, Home and Sidney townships, the city of Carson City, the city of Stanton and three of four precincts in the city of Greenville.

The millage failed in Bloomer, Bushnell, Crystal, Douglass, Fairplains, Ferris, Maple Valley, Montcalm, Pierson, Pine, Reynolds, Richland and Winfield townships.

The millage passed in one Evergreen Township precinct and failed in another. It tied in Day Township.

The proposal would have generated $1.564 million over five years to provide funding for the sheriff’s office, securing the future of court security and adding up to four road patrol deputies to the sheriff’s roster.

Now, the future of court security is unknown and three court security officers will likely lose their jobs.

Sheriff Bill Barnwell expressed surprise and dismay at the voting results Tuesday night.

“I just don’t know why people vote the way they do,” he said. “Certainly the economy has to do with everything. We knew we running into a uphill battle with the whole economy and everything. It’s disappointing and a big blow to our department.”

Barnwell said some cuts will take place immediately and additional cuts will likely take place in the future.

“It certainly sends a bad message to all the criminals in the county,” he said. “We’ll do the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Undersheriff Mark Bellinger and other sheriff’s officers declined comment.

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.

Court security is set to be eliminated March 31 for 8th Judicial Circuit Court, 64B District Court and Probate/Juvenile Court, all of which are housed in the judicial complex in Stanton. Deputy Rich Waite, who works as a court rover, and part-time court security deputies Pete Russell and Bruce Schnepp will likely lose their jobs. No one would be stationed at the court complex entrance to check for weapons.

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