Patrol reduction?

Board mulls contract with sheriff’s office

Donna Wright, loss prevention officer for the Walmart Supercenter in Marquette Township explains the importance of police presence around local businesses. Marquette Township is considering reducing it’s law enforcement contract from 80 hours to 60 hours. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — Three Marquette County Sheriff’s Office officials made their case for maintaining its current law enforcement contract during a regular meeting of the Marquette Township Board on Tuesday.

The board is considering reducing the current sheriff’s office coverage from 80 hours per week to 60, saving about $45,000 in its proposed 2018 budget, Township Manager Randy Girard said.

Girard said the sheriff’s office contract, which is paid out of the township general fund, is one of the few budget line items the board can cut.

“Our tax revenue this year is $98 more than it was in 2014,” Girard said. “There are only two things that we can address that are not statutory requirements that the township performs — recreation and the additional law enforcement contract.”

Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt said the most effective deterrent to crime is visible police presence.

“When you see that red ball, you are not going to be going in that area to do crime,” Zyburt said. “I honestly believe that being seen on that (U.S.) 41 corridor and being seen in those businesses, that’s what makes the difference if they are going to do crime.”

Detective Lt. Stephen Kangas said, based on Marquette County Dispatch records, there have been 2,566 calls to 911 from Marquette Township this year alone.

Kangas said from 2016 to 2017, 911 calls are up by 250 over 2016; traffic-related accidents are up from 142 to 354; suspicious situation complaints have increased from 170 to 267; animal complaints on U.S. 41 have also increased, as well as destruction of property complaints.

In addition, Kangas said, the department logged 856 traffic stops in the township this year.

Retail fraud, an aspect of coverage the board had speculated could be cut at a previous meeting, accounts for about 4 percent of the total calls the sheriff’s office handles, Kangas said.

Donna Wright, loss prevention officer for Walmart, said police presence is a significant deterrent for people who are going to commit retail fraud, but it is not the store’s first line of defense.

“We have processes in place (to deter theft), but having the sheriff’s department access is beneficial to the customers that come into our store, and more beneficial to the community,” she said. “I do my best to make sure that their time spent with me is quality time; we don’t spend hours going through videotape.”

Kangas said reducing police presence from 80 to 60 hours per week could adversely affect township residents as well — specifically with increased response times to certain types of calls and due to prioritization of complaints.

“Unless it’s an emergency, in an emergency you get the closest car, otherwise you get put on the list,” Kangas said.

The Law Enforcement Contracted Services for Marquette Township increased from $139,554 per year in 2014 to $179,780 in 2015. The 2018 proposed expenditure at 80 hours per week would be $195,189 without the reduction in hours.

The board did not consider the cuts because they were dissatisfied with the performance of the sheriff’s officers, Township Supervisor Lyn Durant said.

“I don’t think anybody here has a problem with what you guys are doing, and I think some of the rumor mill was, what do you have against the sheriff’s department — that totally is 100 percent wrong. That’s not it at all,” Durant said.

Girard said pressure created by revenue reductions and increases of 30 percent in electricity costs and up to 32 percent in employee health insurance have left the township with $7,000 excess revenue over expenditures in its general fund budget.

“That’s what we are struggling with, that’s why we are talking about the sheriff’s contract,” Girard said. “We are not talking about eliminating the sheriff’s contract, we are reducing it to the point where we can afford the contract.”

Girard said the township only has about two months of general fund operating expenses in reserve.

“We have other increases going on that the revenue just doesn’t (cover). What do you do?” Girard said. “What happens if revenue sharing slows down and we don’t get it, what happens if a dark store issue comes up and we have to refund three years of back-taxes? That comes out of our general fund fund balance — that’s what we are dealing with.”

Girard said stores that have taken advantage of the tax tribunal rulings are part of a larger problem — not the sole source of it.

“I am not blaming the dark stores, I never have. They took an opportunity to capitalize on it because that’s their job is to provide revenue back to their stockholders, and we don’t blame them,” Girard said. “At the same time the state has continuously reduced taxable values, they have either removed properties from the tax rolls; they have deleted personal property taxes that we get; they have eliminated property tax for veterans, which we certainly support. But this year our taxable value is $300,000 less than it was last year.”

Girard said he is hopeful that the proposed reduction in the sheriff’s office contract is not a permanent change.

“(We are) very supportive of all these things, but it’s getting difficult to do it. That’s why this board is trying to meet the challenge.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.