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Marquette Township has few options in dealing with budget

Marquette Township’s proposed 2018 budget is yet again a tight one, and in an effort toward establishing a healthier financial position, the board is considering a cut to police coverage.

Police protection is surely a top concern for many residents, no matter where you live. But short of asking taxpayers for a millage to fund the desired service, the township seems to have few other ways of dealing with its budget woes.

It is unfortunate, but these are the types of cuts municipalities are being forced to consider in this day and age, when the costs to provide services are steadily on the rise and the revenues needed to pay for those services have not matched the upward trend, or are gradually being diminished.

We’ve heard plenty of local officials opine about how reduced state revenue sharing over the past few years has affected their budgets and that certainly is a contributor to the tightening of purse strings for many municipalities. Moreover, Marquette Township has been on the receiving end of some bumps and bruises when it comes to finances, particularly those related to decisions made by the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

It’s likely one of the top-ranked municipalities in the Upper Peninsula that’s been most impacted by tax tribunal rulings with regards to the “dark store” loophole, through which commercial businesses have successfully cut their property values and the subsequent tax payments to the local government.

Those property values will remain at the lower levels for a long time, and that means fewer tax dollars and revenue trickling into the municipality’s bank account for many years.

The unfortunate result is local officials are forced to look at ways they can save money and one of those for Marquette Township might be cuts to funding for police services.

Lacking a police department of its own, the township contracts for law enforcement with the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office.

The township currently pays for 80 hours a week of coverage and that expense is projected to be slightly more than $195,000 in the 2018 budget. That’s up about $15,000 from three years ago, when in 2015 the expense was just shy of $180,000.

Now, on one side of this, a number of offenses, accidents and complaints have increased since last year, which most people would see as a need to follow up with an increase in law enforcement, rather than a reduction to it. Actually, that’s what the board did a few years back.

In 2015, the township saw an uptick in police-related issues and decided to increase its contracted coverage by 20 hours a week, bringing the enforcement to 80 hours, where it currently stands today.

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, increasing the coverage for 2018 isn’t an option and maintaining its current level may not be the best route to take, either.

Many municipalities have mutual aid agreements with their neighbors, and that allows for the sharing of first responder services across borders.

The Marquette County Sheriff’s Office already has jurisdiction over Marquette Township, which is just a few miles from where the sheriff’s office is physically located. Meanwhile, there are other police departments nearby with the ability to respond should a serious issue require their help.

The sheriff’s office has done a fine job policing the township and if the township had the ability to increase coverage, we’re sure it wouldn’t pass on the opportunity. But when the money is not available, there isn’t much you can do.

The township estimates it will save $45,000 by reducing its police coverage to 60 hours per week, back to the pre-2015 level. At this time, it seems to be a wise fiscal decision, and something the township can re-evaluate in the coming years when, hopefully, it might have more revenue to play with.