Members of the public weigh in as Eaton County faces challenges with finalizing a budget

CHARLOTTE, MI (WLNS) – Eaton County officials are facing a dilemma when it comes to finding the money to fund retirement health care benefits and more than two dozen positions at the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office depend on it.

As the deadline draws near for the county’s Board of Commissioners to take action on a proposed budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, they allowed the public to weigh in.

During a public hearing Tuesday night, commissioners provided the community with a packet which detailed expenses by department. View it by clicking here.

Finalizing a budget has been challenging for the county, and has forced officials to make proposed cuts  to public safety.

Many people who spoke out Tuesday night say they are not OK with it.

If you recall, this proposed budget would eliminate a total of 26 positions from the Sheriff’s Department. That includes 18 deputies from the road patrol, four command jobs, two dispatchers and two clerks.

Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich said this would have a devastating impact on law enforcement and the community.

Several members of the public who spoke out during the public hearing even threw out the idea of putting a millage on the ballot.

“I would invite the increase if it kept the road patrol out there,” one man said.

“I would like for us as constituents and as voters to have the opportunity in the near future to add to 911, jail, juvenile, Eatran medical care facility and roads, all service that we need,” Russ Hicks said.

“The whole county, even Delta Township, which we don’t live in, are being deprived or potentially deprived of our protection,” another man added.

Some, who live in the out-county also raised concerns.

“All these budget cuts you’re talking about yeah they’re a quick fix, in the long run it’s going to catch you in the rear,” Stan Karamol said. “A lot of you do not live in the outer part of the county; you all have access to police 24-7.”

To get a better understanding of just how devastating this impact could be, 6 News got some numbers from the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office.

The following numbers reflect the amount of calls deputies respond to on an annual basis. Keep in mind, this includes both the county and out county, which is Delta Township.

In 2016, there were 43,074 calls for service; of those calls, 21,086 were for out-county response.

That’s approximately 118 calls per day, which equals to about one call every 12 minutes.

From January 1, 2017 to August 21, 2017, there were 28,059 calls for service. Of those calls, 12,759 were for out-county response.

Officials at the Sheriff’s Office said the week of July 31, deputies responded to 1,031 thousand calls for service.

If commissioners vote in favor of the budget, which includes the elimination of 18 road patrol deputies, there will be roughly nine deputies responding to those calls.

The types of calls vary from responding to accidents, to domestic situations, to drug overdoses. Sheriff Tom Reich said the deputies are busy and making such cuts to the department would be devastating for not only police, but the community they service.

Deputies in Eaton County also carry narcan. According to the Sheriff’s Office, there have been a number of incidents this year where deputies delivered life-saving narcan to a person who overdosed.

Many also raised concerns over public safety when it comes to crime and responding to accidents during Michigan’s winters.

“What’s going to happen when you’re on a highway, you get in an accident in the middle of winter and have to get ahold of an Eaton County officer,” Karamol said. “He’s the only first responder, or her, that’s going to get to you.”

The proposed budget packet detailed a number of things including estimates of budget areas by revenue.

One of the areas shows that there’s been a decrease in revenue due to a reduction in tickets written for traffic violations.

“If you don’t have officers patrolling, it’s a little hard to write tickets,” Karamol said. “So you’re talking about cutting more officers, well there goes more of your revenue.”

One woman raised concerns over the money the county has spent on training new officers, that if let go, will then work for a different department.

“The county has recently hired several officers, put them through training and spent a lot of time investing into them,” she said.

She said she would support a police millage in order to keep the deputies on road patrol, but by the time the county added one to the ballot, it would be too late.

“Once we get that millage we’re going to have to start all over again so we have wasted every penny that was spent on them,” the woman added. “I don’t think that there’s many of us who don’t want that police protection in out county.”

Commissioners have eight days to finalize a budget before they vote on it on September 20th.

We welcome thoughts and comments from our viewers. We ask that everyone keep their remarks civil and respectful. Postings that contain profanity, racist, or potentially libelous remarks will be deleted. We will delete any commercial postings, as well.

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