Board votes to move Road Patrol Millage to the ballot box
The Board of Commissioners meetings are generally not well attended and for the most part take place in front of department heads, other elected officials, folks who have reports to deliver and perhaps 1 or 2 citizens along with an erstwhile reporter.
Wednesday drew a larger than usual crowd for two reasons.
A resolution acknowledging the retirement of Earle Hable filled many seats with his family and co-workers. In addition, several others were in attendance on this day and many who were there took the opportunity to address the board during public comment regarding the vote that was to be taken on whether or not to place a millage for Road Patrol on the August ballot.
But first, Earle.
Mr. Hable was being recognized on his retirement as Newaygo County Drain Maintenance Supervisor a position he has held for nearly two decades.
“Earle helped develop more environmentally conscious programs through collaborative work with the Road Commission, Parks, ISD, and other neighboring Drain Commissions that will protect the waters of the state,” read Board Chair Patrick Gardner while presenting a plaque given in appreciation.
Then came the first public comment portion of the meeting related to items on the agenda.
Del Hirdes of Newaygo spoke to the resolution for the Public Safety Millage.
“ I just want to let you know I believe a vote against placing the millage on the ballot is not a vote against the Sheriff’s Department, but it is a vote that asks ‘Are we doing things the best way and are there no other options other than placing this millage on the ballot?”
“We want a strong Sheriff’s Department but we also want to make sure our funds are being put to use in a proper manner.”
Newaygo Mayor Ed Fedell also spoke.
“I have extremely high regard for all law enforcement officers.
“When I look at this proposal I'm not in a position to decide whether these funds are needed that's your job. And I trust you are doing due diligence.
“When I look at a half mill and compare it to the previous one it is a 50% increase.”
Mayor Fedell cautioned that the monies would keep escalating and expressed concern about adding another tax burden on citizens.He stated that cities in the county with their own full time police force would not bebenefitting while paying the extra in taxes.
Mayor Fedell also expressed concern about how much of the funding would be used for road patrol as opposed to equipment, training and other expenses.He suggested they consider two proposals, one strictly for road patrol and one for any other specific expenses.
He also suggested that should the board go through with the proposal they consider exempting cities with full time police departments.
Lora Kalkofen speaking as a citizen while citing her experience as White Cloud City Manager expressed support for moving the resolution forward and spoke to the ongoing and necessary collaboration with the county for coverage in White Cloud.
“Because of my job I’ve had a lot of people asking me about this millage,” said WC Chief Dan Evans. “In my opinion there is a large silent majority that are absolutely in favor of this.”
Chief Evans shared the challenges of being a small town police force without the resources necessary to deliver 24 hour services.
“We rely on the Sheriff's Department to respond in the city when someone at 4am calls 911.”
Grant Chief Brad Wade also expressed his support for the resolution citing a similar need for support of the Sheriff’s Department to assist with their part time police force.
When it came time to discuss the resolution Sheriff Bob Mendham spoke to commissioners before the vote.
“I don’t believe I would be doing my job if I were not here before you today asking for more help”.
The Sheriff spoke to a concern on how limitations on coverage are impacting the NCSD ability to provide the needed level of service. He related a couple of incidents that put law enforcement personnel in harm’s way because of a lack of available manpower and times when calls came in while both units were occupied with other episodes.
“I understand that additional burden on the taxpayers. I am one of those taxpayers. I understand it’s a burden. But to live in the greatest country in the world and a have the lifestyle that we have costs money and unfortunately we need to decide what is more important and I believe the safety of the public is the most important.”
He assured that should commissioners decide against moving the resolution forward the NCSD would continue to provide the best level of service possible however acknowledging the limits a manpower shortage places on the ability to deliver services.
Commissioner Chris Ortwein spoke to ongoing county subsidizing of the NCSD and the budget issues they have experienced for over a decade.
He objected to the burden was always being placed on property owners .
“I just think there’s other ways we can look at that. Have you vetted your department about efficiencies? I know you need more personnel. I agree with that . I have a real problem with adding another half mill.
“There’s got to be some other ways to do this.”
“I believe we have looked at ourselves internally, we’ve eliminated positions, unfortunately the job we’re in and the service we provide is not a money maker,” replied the Sheriff. “The problem we’re struggling with is the Sheriff’s Department requires a lot of money. However I don’t know any way to make money to do this job.”
“I appreciate all your efforts and I hope we can make this work somehow,”said Commissioner Ortwein.
“We beat this up pretty good at finance committee and voted to move it to the full board to allow members to express their concerns,” said Commissioner and Finance Chair Phil Deur. “We aren’t levying a tax, here. This is giving the constituents the chance to decide for themselves.”
Commissioner Deur spoke to lack of State Police presence other than patrol since the closure of the Newaygo post.
“We’re seeing more criminal activity in our southwest part of the county and I’d rather we be proactive. As long as our staffing is where it was 20 years ago or even below 20 years ago we’re going to become reactive not proactive.”
Commissioner Jim Maike spoke to his support of the resolution and the increased need for safety these days relating some recent incidents in other parts of the country and stated “There are very few things I think we should send to the people and this is one. Let’s let the voters decide.”
Chuck Trapp who represents many of the northern counties noted that it takes 40 minutes to drive from White Cloud to the northern county line indicating the need for coverage in the areas that are not near cities.
“I feel the people I represent need to be able to voice their opinion.”
Vern Willett stated “I was elected by 7000 people to come up here and make a decision and I will make the decision the way I should according to the will of my people.”
“I am proud of this board,” said Board Chair Patrick Gardner.” They have studied the issue and spoken to their constituents. If we vote this down we will not have given those constituents an opportunity to decide for themselves. If you’re for it, campaign for it, if you’re against it campaign against.”
Commissioner Ortwein suggested moving it to the general election in November instead of the August date because of increased voter turnout. This did not receive further support.
The roll call vote went as follows:
Ortwein- No Deur-Yes- Willett- No Trapp -Yes Maike Yes Kolk -Yes Gardner- Yes.
The resolution was passed and the Road Patrol Millage will be placed on the August 7 ballot.
In the final public comment portion the board heard from Newygo City manager Jon Schneider who shared information regarding a recent meeting held to explore ways for the county and city of Newaygo to collaborate more and shared some of the positive outcomes of the meeting and from former Sheriff Mike Mercer who praised the board for making the decision to move the Road Patrol resolution forward.