TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County commissioners tapped the brakes on a proposal to cut sheriff’s road patrol deputies.
County board members recently discussed more than $1 million in potential cuts designed to balance 2014’s books, including law enforcement reductions. Commission President Herb Lemcool said several county programs and services could be trimmed, but reducing the number of road deputies had no “traction” among the seven-member board.
“I don’t think there’s any support for cutting police officers,” he said.
County officials face a $1.5 million deficit as they piece together the 2014 budget. County Administrator Dave Benda proposed deep cuts to shore up the gap, with the sheriff’s department bearing the brunt of the burden — $600,000 by eliminating a captain from the sheriff’s detective division, along with a lieutenant, a sergeant and five deputies from the 24-strong road patrol division.
Sheriff Tom Bensley wasn’t happy how the proposed cuts gave his department little say over its own budget.
“I view it as the county administration throwing us into a big hole, and now we have to crawl out of it defending ourselves to keep our officers on street and command staff,” he said. “We’re a large part of the budget, but (Benda) focused on us specifically.”
The board echoed Bensley’s sentiments. Commissioner Christine Maxbauer said eliminating sheriff’s personnel undercuts the county’s commitment to public safety.
“We need to put our money where our mission is,” she said.
Commissioners may be wary of personnel cuts, but that doesn’t mean the sheriff’s department won’t be trimmed in other ways.
Lemcool said commissioners are considering not filling an empty captain’s position, requiring schools to pay for resource officers and requesting townships pay a higher percentage of the salaries for 18 “community policing officers.” He said those options also could mean personnel reductions, especially from townships whose officials may be unwilling to pay more for officers.
Bensley said he’ll tell commissioners he needs every officer.
Benda said he’ll offer commissioners alternatives in future budget meetings, but taking personnel cuts in the sheriff’s department off the table could put the squeeze on other county services. He said road patrol deputies “overwhelmingly” are the largest non-mandated expense in county government.
“We can find places to cut, but it’s not going to be easy cuts,” Benda said. “It’s going to be (an) impact on county services. The question is what do we have the stomach for?”
Commissioners talked about cuts to the parks and recreation department and Michigan State University extension. Lemcool said the board will review the budget “line by line” for potential reductions before it’s adopted before December.