People may vote on Montcalm County sheriff’s coverage

STANTON — The amount of road patrol coverage by the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Department could come up for a vote by the people who depend on it.
Montcalm County residents may vote on a special millage, possibly as early as February, that would raise funds not only to maintain road patrol coverage, but also to increase the current number of deputies.
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners Law Enforcement & Courts Committee discussed the possible millage request on Monday.
Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer has been meeting with judges and other officials to discuss how to save court security. The Board of Commissioners was set to eliminate court security Sept. 26 as part of $1.3 million in budget cuts, but commissioners voted to extend the service until the end of December while they look for $85,000 to fund the service for the remainder of this fiscal year.
Hyzer said court security discussions have led to the question of funding public safety in the near future.
“We know that the budget for 2013 is not going to be looking as good as the budget for 2012,” he said.
Hyzer said residents could vote on a special millage in February, which coincides with the presidential primary election, so the ballot proposal would not cost the county additional funds.
The sheriff’s office currently has 14 countywide road patrol positions — including sergeants — to handle three shifts 24/7.
Sheriff Bill Barnwell said a millage would allow him to hire four or five more deputies and move the cost of deputies out of the county’s general fund, which would provide more security for both funds in the future. He said Gratiot and Newaygo counties have similar millages for police coverage.
“It would provide more additional coverage than what we currently have,” Barnwell told commissioners regarding a millage. “It’s adding officers to the road. It’s not just maintaining the status quo.”
He said the funding pressures likely in the future likely will put more a dent in the services his office provides.
“While it’s not something we’d really like to do, this puts the question to the general public to see what they want,” Barnwell said. “I don’t want to wait until the point where we have to lay off officers and not have 24/7 police coverage. We’re really close to that right now.”
Barnwell said if the issue doesn’t go to a vote and pass in February, the county will have to look at joining forces with other counties to provide services.
“It’s really a shame that it has to be the economy that drives the need and that also drives the need for law enforcement,” said District 3 Commissioner Ron Retzloff. “When your money is short is when you really need more law enforcement people. I know you’re at bare bones as far as road patrol and officer safety. This may be our only option at this point.”
The Board of Commissioners will continue to discuss the possible millage at the Nov. 28 meeting.

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