Montcalm County law enforcement millage to be on November ballot

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 1:13 pm on Tuesday, June 26, 2012

From left, 64B District Court Magistrate Kim Miller, Sheriff Bill Barnwell, Lt. Steve Russell and Undersheriff Mark Bellinger anxiously await the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners vote Monday on a proposed law enforcement millage to be placed on November's ballot. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

STANTON — A failed law enforcement millage proposal is going back to the voters.

The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners voted 8-1 Monday to approve Sheriff Bill Barnwell’s request to place a proposal on the November ballot for 0.6 mills over two years for $971,000 to partially fund the sheriff’s department.

The proposal is reduced from February’s request for $1.564 million over five years, which failed by just 120 votes.

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. If the millage proposal fails, Barnwell said the sheriff’s office is looking at $200,000 to $300,000 in cuts, which could affect 24/7 road patrol coverage, court security and other services.

Commissioners had a rather passionate discussion about the proposed millage before voting on it Monday. Commissioner Tom Lindeman of Greenville was the lone dissenter.

“I did a little survey during the (recent) township association meeting,” he said. “There were 16 people who said they voted yes in the previous election and all those would go ahead and vote yes again. The nine people who voted no are all going to hold their no vote except for one. That audience is a very pro-government audience and I think a switch of one vote is not significant. I think the people are going to say no.”

Commissioner Ron Retzloff of Crystal made the motion to place the proposal on November’s ballot.
“I don’t know what our alternative to this is,” he said. “I don’t know if this is the answer, another millage request, or not, but I feel if we don’t at least give it a try, then I think we failed in that respect toward our law enforcement and courts.”

“I think we ought to give it a chance, or another try,” agreed Commissioner Lloyd Walker of Greenville.
Lindeman reiterated his concern, which he has voiced at previous meetings, that if the millage passes, the funds will go toward something other than the sheriff’s department. Commissioners have repeatedly denied this theory, but Lindeman remains unconvinced.

“I know we need the money, but I cannot support a tax increase that says sheriff when I know some of the funds will be used in other departments,” he said. “All the other departments are deserving of increases as well.”

“What other departments are you referring to?” asked Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview.
“I think we will go in and make adjustments to other departments,” Lindeman said.

“Legally we will not be allowed to use this money for anything other than the sheriff,” Carr said.
“I know, but it’s shifting of the departments,” Lindeman responded.

“We’re not trying to trick the voters,” Carr emphasized. “It’s all on the table. Money from this will go toward law enforcement operations. If this passes, we’re not going to take money and use it in other departments. We’re not going to take this millage money and fund other departments.”

“I do think there will be some shifting to other departments,” Lindeman said again.

“Well, as long as (The Daily News) has you on record saying you think the money will be shifted, I want to go on the record saying the money is not going to be shifted,” Carr stated.

Commissioner Betty Kellenberger of Carson City also tried to assure Lindeman that funds from the sheriff’s millage proposal would not go toward other county departments. Barnwell noted that commissioners previously made a resolution promising the funds would only be used for the sheriff’s department.

After commissioners voted 8-1 in favor of putting the millage on November’s ballot, Lindeman made one final comment.

“I certainly hope that the millage does pass,” he said. “I just think that I need to be completely honest with our voters.”

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