Allegan County Sheriff May Seek New Millage To Raise $2 Million To Augment County Services
The Allegan County Sheriff’s Office and other authority officials say that a multi-year flatlined budget has reduced the quality of service it is able to provide to county residents, Allegan County Board of Commissioners Chair Dean Kapenga recently announced at a Saugatuck City Council meeting.
As a solution, the sheriff is looking to a possible countywide millage of .5 that is estimated to raise $2 million per year.
This would supplant the level of service that has been lost throughout the years, but was there 10 years ago, said Kapenga.
While the department’s personnel has remained consistently at 53, including Allegan County Sheriff Frank Baker and Undersheriff Mike Larsen, the county’s population has spiked since 2011, say sheriff officials.
An adequate level of service for current needs requires eight new deputies and four more detectives, Kapenga reported.
“He (Allegan County Sheriff Frank Baker) really gave that plea,” said Kapenga of Baker’s comments during a recent workshop involving a number of government and law enforcement officials to discuss the issue.
The inadequacies are clear: response times are getting slower; in general, instead of six there are only four road patrols deputies on duty covering the five-zone county and sometimes sheriff deputies need to be called in from off duty to respond to serious incidents, sheriff officials have indicated.
“Twenty three minutes is not an appropriate response time for an injury accident,” said Kapenga. “We have no more to put into it (the sheriff’s budget).”
The 0.5 mill countywide tax would have to gain public support and that is something that law enforcement officials concede could be challenging.
The millage proposal has at least one critic in Saugatuck resident Dan Fox, who has publicly spoken out about the matter.
“I question it’s equitability—why would Saugatuck residents, for example, have to pay (via a tax levy) for law enforcement service that is far more used in other places than Saugatuck?”
Along the same lines, Saugatuck shares a police department with the City of Douglas, and that’s always been a point of contention among officials from those municipalities that Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department officers often respond to calls outside their jurisdiction.
One of those areas they respond to is Saugatuck Township, which doesn’t have its own police department and instead relies on the county’s sheriff patrol deputy service.
Fox added, “The tax revenue is going up (via property tax values), but they (Allegan County officials), have flatlined the amount allocated to police.
That is the county’s problem, not a tax problem (that should be shouldered by the taxpayer).”
Another option sheriff officials are mulling over is to contract deputies. This option would have the county work out a contract with local municipalities to have their officers cover local needs during serious circumstances.