Article

Commissioners Weigh in on Proposed May 3rd Public Safety Request

Posted In:Politics, Local, Finance, Taxes, News, Local | From Issue 725 | By: | 28th April, 2011 | 0


Saginaw County’s General Fund has run a deficit in 7 of the last 10 years. As a result, fund reserves have fallen to a level that will likely require short-term borrowing to meet cash flow needs in the coming fiscal years.

To its credit, the County has taken steps to reduce costs and seek new sources of funding. However, these efforts have not been significant enough to prevent continued structural budget deficits. The current operating budget anticipates fully depleting the Budget Stabilization Reserve and dipping into the Employee Payroll Reserve. Once spent, the dollars in these reserves will be extremely difficult to recoup in the foreseeable future.

In an effort to avoid significant service reductions, particularly in the area of Sheriff services, the County will seek voter approval of a 1.0 mill special millage for public safety services in 2011 on May 3rd.  

Should the millage request be approved, approximately $4.4 million in new revenue would be available in the 2011-12 fiscal year. Still, even with the passage of such millage, the County will need to reduce General Fund expenditures by $1 million.
           
Another significant revenue source, State revenue sharing, is at risk of being eliminated or reduced. Should the State eliminate the program in its next fiscal year, Saginaw County would face a loss of $4.2 million in General Fund revenue in fiscal year 2011-12. Balancing the budget without this revenue would require a reduction in expenditures of close to 12%.
                 
When we follow national and state news events, rarely do we see Democrats and Republicans agree on much of anything.
                     
But when we surveyed members of the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners, three Dems and two GOP members all indicated they support the 1-mill law enforement proposal on the May 3rd ballot.
                     
We requested that members provide short responses but we have allowed for longer answers.
                     
Democrats Mike Hanley, Mike O’Hare and Robert “Moe” Woods selected the briefer route, while Republicans Dennis Krafft and Ann Doyle felt a need to explain themselves in greater detail.
                     
Non-responders to our April survey were Democrats Bregitte Braddock, Eddie Foxx, Cheryl Hadsall, Susan McInerney and Carl Ruth, and Republicans Tim Kelly, Kirk Kilpatrick, Ron Scholtz and Patrick Wurtzel.
                 
Last November, all of the Democrats said they were in favor and the Republicans were opposed.
                      
Following are the April responses. You can also read their initial thoughts to this millage by searching in our online archive for our millage feature that appeared last November.
 
Moe Woods: “Some people want services without paying taxes, but we have to do what’s best for the total community. This millage would support not only the Sheriff’s Department, but also the jail, and the prosecutor, and the judges. We are all in this together. I’m a person who is willing to pay taxes for the good of the community.”
   
Mike O’Hare: I don’t like paying more taxes, but I am for law enforcement. My duties as a commissioner are to protect the health and welfare of the citizens I respresent. Nobody’s really talking about it much in Chesaning, but people are softening up to the need for this 1-mill tax. They realize they would lose a lot of police protection.
   
Mike Hanley: “Saginaw County has slashed its budget, cutting over 100 staff positions over the past 10 years.  This year we eliminated benefits for county commissioners and continued a pay freeze for all elected officials.
 
This millage is a last resort to keep the Sheriff’s Department operating at current levels.  If the millage isn’t approved, the Sheriff’s Department will be forced to close 160 beds in the County Jail, cut more than half of its road patrol deputies, and close the detective bureau.”
   
Dennis Krafft: “The vote is being provided so that we can choose what direction we should be heading: Do we continue the cuts and decrease services that we have come to rely on, or do we bump up the assessment to keep those services intact?  Just so that we are clear, those services consist of public safety because these expenses make up about 2/3 of the general fund, which is why this is where saving jobs, or cutting jobs, is concentrated.  I threw this last statement in because there are those that think we are grandstanding with public safety because this touches your heart more profoundly and has a better chance of passing as a result.  Sorry, it is what it is…. which is why I’m voting “yes.”
     
“Another point to share: Commissioners have already identified $1 million in additional cuts that will take place on May 1, 2011, part of which includes 15 more positions throughout county service departments.  Oh, and with the State of Michigan in trouble on meeting its budget obligations, another $1.5 million is lost of the $3.8 million in revenue sharing, funding which the state had promised in exchange for the county’s fulfillment of mandated services.  Sweet, isn’t it?
     
“Passing the millage will definitely help save these important services, at least for the most part, even though more cuts will be needed until other methods of improving tax base occur, like increasing property values, new construction, and hopefully increasing population trends once again.  But none of those things appear to be too promising, at least in the short run.
     
“I am telling constituents that this would not really be a tax increase. Property values have been going down now for the past 4-5 years.  So another way of looking at this, the county is simply looking to restore tax revenue that it has lost, which you have gained, and asking you to restore it so services can continue as they have been.
     
“We also have a reputation for violent crime in Saginaw, be it the City or the County, it matters not, both are painted with the same brush across worldly boundaries.  If we show the world we are serious about the yet to be published declining trend in dangerous crime in Saginaw, passing this millage would be a key message."
     
Ann Doyle: “My vote is 'yes' even though I don't want to pay more taxes on our home and business.  Both are located in townships that have police and also use the county's detectives, road patrol and jail.
 
As of April 12th, the detectives had 600 open cases.  The fastest growing area of crime in Saginaw is property crimes and two detectives specialize in this area.  The other four each have a specialized area and all six investigate major crimes as needed.  The bureau will close if the millage fails.
   
“I have been on patrol and have seen first-hand the deputies providing back-up to other departments and also being the first responder.  I believe that with percent fewer deputies, calls will either not be answered or delays will occur that will make the situation worse.  Some of the calls responded to by the deputies I rode with would most likely have turned out for the worse with delays in the response and the nature of the call.
   
“Current jail capacity is 513 & on April 11th, there were 501 inmates with a daily average so far in 2011 being 491.  If the millage fails, 160 beds will close.  Many misdemeanor arrests will receive a ticket to appear in court.  If a partially closed jail in Saginaw County is anything like Genesee County's partially closed jail, then the majority of these people will not appear and will continue to break the law.
   
“The county's general budget has seen cuts to services, elimination of services, and 100-plus positions cut over the last 10 years, with $1 million being cut so far in 2011.  Commissioners voted to eliminate all of their benefits & by law, the cuts will become effective at the start of the next term.  Also, fewer commissioners sit on committees effective in 2011.
   
“Continued falling property values means less revenue to the county.  Even if the millage passes, proposed reduction of state evenue sharing likely means cuts of another $1.6 million from other areas of the budget.  If the 1 mill request fails, then $4.4 million must be cut in addition to the $1 million already cut and the anticipated $1.6 million due to reduced Revenue Sharing, for a total of $7 million in cuts for 2011-approximately 16 percent  of the general budget.
   
“Counties must provide services mandated by state law and the state Constitution.  The bulk of our costs come from these mandates.  By law, mandated services cannot be eliminated and reductions cannot go below a'serviceable level' which is very loosely defined.  Many services not mandated are necessary such as maintenance/janitorial staff, the cntroller and staff (which have been reduced greatly) and others.
 
 “Many of these mandates are unfunded, which was the reason Michigan created Revenue Sharing - and it should be noted the funds received in the past did not cover the cost of the unfunded mandates.  (Future unfunded mandates may be 'optional' if current legislation is passed in the House and Senate & signed by the Governor.)”
 
Prosecutor Mike Thomas says:
 
“I encourage a “yes” vote because the alternative the Board has left is to eliminate 110 Saginaw County employees next year, 80 percent of whom are law enforcement related positions, and this will drastically compromise public safety in Saginaw County and increase crime in our county.
                 
Ten positions alone would be eliminated in the Prosecutor's Office, including 5 full-time prosecutors, which would be one-fourth of my staff. These prosecutors have contributed to reducing murders in the County and City to a 50-year low and decreasing shootings in the City by over 60 percent since 2006. Saginaw remained America's most violent city in 2009 according to the FBI but is making substantial progress this year toward a safer Saginaw for 2010 and beyond. We can't turn back.
                      
“Political trends always can influence election proposals but all law-abiding citizens want safety and criminal accountability in their communities. We have asked the Board of Commissioners to fund the Prosecutor's Office, Courts and Sheriff's Department including the jail at existing staffing because they are Constitutionally mandated services and commissioners decided to place this decision on the ballot for citizens to decide."
                 
“Saginaw residents pay 7.5 mills for public safety resources in the City. This tax is critical to the safety of Saginaw City and County citizens. Criminals do not commit their crimes only where they live. Part I crime in Saginaw County occurs outside the City as often as in the City. Passage of the Saginaw County Law Enforcement Millage will keep the Saginaw County Jail OPEN to hold Saginaw's offenders, will keep the Prosecutor's Office OPEN for business and will keep our Courts OPEN for justice.
                    
“If the Saginaw County Law Enforcement Millage fails, Saginaw County will not be able to maintain the remarkable progress it has made in reducing murder and violent crime over these past 22 months, compared to Flint where reductions in police and prosecutors have resulted in 56 homicides and relentless shootings.”
 
Sheriff Bill Federspiel says:
 
“A majority of people have indicated in a survey that they would support a tax for public safety. What about people who already pay a local public safety millage? That’s a question I’m asked all the time. My answer is, do you ever go to Sam’s Club of the Quad theaters or Chuck E. Cheese? When you leave your home community, your local police don’t leave with you and protect you. You relay on the Sheriff’s Department. We back up the police in communities that already have their own police, and we are primary providers for those that don’t.
                      
“Without the millage we would have to shut down part of our jail, and no officers can do their jobs without an open jail.
                       
“In Genesee County, people laugh at law enforcement because they know they will only get appearance tickets. We don’t want to have that in Saginaw.
                      
“Why do we have three deputies on the metal detector at the courthouse? At any given time, there are 300 people in the courthouse. There are murder trials going on and gang affiliation trials. We could not protect all the people properly with only one deputy at the courthouse door.”
 
 

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