STANTON — It’s in the hands of township officials now.
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved renewing sheriff’s deputy contracts with Crystal, Eureka, Montcalm and Sidney townships Monday. The three-year contracts are set to expire on Dec. 31. Township officials must now decide whether to renew the contracts.
Deputy Justin Schafer and Deputy Clay Thomas are currently assigned to Eureka Township via the sheriff’s office. Deputy Ken Butts splits his time between Montcalm Township and Sidney Township, which have a split, shared cost contract with the sheriff’s office.
Deputy Steve Snyder was previously assigned to Crystal Township via the sheriff’s office, but Snyder was laid off as a low-seniority officer on Oct. 1 as part of budget cuts to the sheriff’s office. A yet-to-be-determined officer will replace Snyder in Crystal Township.
Crystal, Montcalm and Sidney townships all have the option of canceling their deputy contract with 90 days notice to the sheriff’s department. Eureka Township must give 120 days notice. The original contracts have been in place since January 2010.
The new contracts approved by the Board of Commissioners on Monday contain a slight increase in pay — from $68,200 to $71,000, or about a 4 percent increase (including insurance costs and more).
Each township-contracted deputy is allowed 80 hours of vacation time per year. Another change in the contracts approved Monday specify that any vacation time over 80 hours will be covered by a substitute officer from the sheriff’s office, meaning sheriff’s officers will only cover that township at that time as much as they normally cover the rest of the county.
Commissioner Tom Lindeman of Greenville expressed concern about people knowing when their township’s deputy is on vacation, meaning criminals might take advantage of that time frame.
“The people in the township know when their deputy is on vacation,” Lindeman said. “You’d be surprised what they know about their deputies.”
Sheriff Bill Barnwell said his officers are working hard to fill in the gaps, with even Undersheriff Mark Bellinger and Lt. Steve Russell doing road patrol themselves.
“I think that’s a good thing,” said Commissioner Roger Caris of Vestaburg. “I think they can do a better job of supervising if they are doing some of those duties, in my opinion.”
“I think we probably have a more hands-on approach than some places do,” Barnwell agreed.
Township officials will discuss whether to renew deputy contracts at upcoming regular meetings in November and December. Barnwell is hoping other townships currently without deputies will also show interest in contracting a deputy, especially after the failed sheriff’s law enforcement millage proposal in the Nov. 6 election.
Montcalm County remains without 24/7 road patrol coverage from the sheriff’s office since county budget cuts were implemented Oct. 1, meaning that every day one out of three shifts is not manned by a sheriff’s officer.