Montcalm County law enforcement millage may go back on ballot

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:10 am on Thursday, May 31, 2012

STANTON — A law enforcement millage proposal failed by 120 votes earlier this year.

Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell hopes the margin was close enough for another try.

Barnwell appeared before the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to ask them to place a new law enforcement millage proposal on the ballot in November. Magistrate Kim Miller was present as well.

“It appears on the horizon that we’re looking at additional cuts,” said Barnwell, referring to the sheriff’s department. “I think a conservative guess might be $200,000 to $300,000. We know we need 24-hour police protection in this county and the sheriff’s office is the primary provider of protection.”

Barnwell proposed putting a law enforcement millage proposal on the November ballot, albeit a reduced proposal — 0.6 mills over two years for $1 million instead of last February’s proposal for $1.564 million over five years to provide funding for the sheriff’s office, secure the future of court security and add up to four road patrol deputies to the sheriff’s roster.

Barnwell and other law enforcement officers are hoping the more modest proposal, as well as the higher voter turnout in November, will result in voter approval. Barnwell said his mission is not to get people to vote “yes,” but to encourage them just to vote so Montcalm County can decide as a whole whether law enforcement is important enough to fund.

“This is such an important issue,” Barnwell said. “We know the Board of Commissioners has a history of not going back to the voters, but we felt it was such an important issue that it should be put out there again.

Commissioners agreed to discuss the issue — and likely vote on it — at their next full board meeting in late June.

Commissioners cut $400,000 from the sheriff’s department budget last autumn. When Barnwell announced that court security would be included in the cuts in order to keep 24-7 road patrol coverage, commissioners voted twice to extend court security — first until the end of last December and again until the end of March — while they tried to find a way to keep it. Commissioners voted in March to retain court security until the end of the fiscal year by using the county’s entire $75,000 contingency fund — a reserve set aside for unplanned expenses.

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