CHARLOTTE, MI (WLNS) – Can you put a price on public safety? Many in Eaton County say “no.”
Dozens of people packed a room during a board of commissioners meeting Wednesday night, where many thought the board would be voting on a measure that could cut more than two dozen members of the Eaton County Sheriff’s Department in an effort to balance the budget.
It’s a recommendation to cut a total of 26 positions at the sheriff’s office.
While there was no action taken on this proposal, many people, including Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich, spoke out about this budget issue that affects both police and public safety.
County officials say their dilemma is finding the money to fund retirement health care benefits.
While nothing will be finalized until next month, commissioners listened to what the public had to say.
“What you’re doing tonight to the Eaton County Deputy Sheriff’s is a huge in-service,” one man said. “These men and women go out every night, every day and face danger; none of you have probably ever seen it here.”
The proposal calls for layoffs to at least 18 deputies, four command jobs, two dispatchers, and two clerks.
Something Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich says is “devastating.”
“We have a duty to the public,” he said. “I have a job to do to protect the public and it concerns me knowing that my people in the field are going to be at risk.”
Sheriff Reich says the department has 17 deputies in the out-county patrol and four command officers to take the calls that come in throughout the county.
The proposed cuts would whittle that number down to nine.
“It’s going to affect everybody,” Sheriff Reich said. “The public, I’m concerned about that, the risk to the deputies not having back up, but the public is going to suffer having a reduced road patrol.”
“This is betrayal,” Eaton County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Brown said.
He was speaking to 6 News as union representative.
“It’s gone to the commissioners; it’s gone from the controller, that is basically a betrayal to the deputies that have worked her for many years, that have sacrificed much to work here to keep the county safe.,” Brown said.
But it’s not just a problem for those who are currently working for the county.
Retirees are also facing potential cuts to their healthcare benefits.
“Those of us who retired under a contract, under a labor contract, have it in our contract that we’re guaranteed paid health insurance for the rest of our lives and the county has debated about altering that,” Mack Haun said.
Haun is a retired Eaton County Sheriff’s Deputy.
While it won’t be an issue the county will take up this year, it’s a problem looming for the next.
“Right now, our health insurance, we’re on fixed incomes and our health insurance is paid for,” Mack Haun said. “If they diminish it in some way, then we have to pay that difference and who knows what the health care costs are going to be and some of us are in positions where it’s going to be really fiscally difficult.”
“It’s betrayal to the retired deputies who have spent 25 years and a career here protecting the citizens, but even more so , the citizens of Eaton County that are going to be without protection now,” Brown said.
Brown said he hopes the commissioners will consider the important job of law enforcement in the county.
“I would like the commissioners to be the one to answer the phone call when somebody’s in a crash or somebody’s hurt, so if somebody’s been a victim of domestic assault, and there’s nobody to go to take the call,” he said.
“But how about all these older people?” One man said during public comment. “Your grandparents, your parents, 78 years old living in a house by themseleves…they gotta make a phone call to get help and there’s officers in Delta and they live out in Olivet..who’s going to help them? Think about it when you cut the Eaton County Sheriff’s Department, you might be the next one that needs them.’
Here’s what happens next: The budget will be presented to the public during the Eaton County Board of Commissioners meeting, which is on September 12th.
Once action is taken by the Ways and Means Committee, the commissioners will then take action and vote on it September 20th.
Stay with 6 News, we’ll keep you updated on this story as it develops.