Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Giant Jail Lite: half the expansion, none of the services?

18. April 2005 • Murph
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After February’s jail millage failed, blogger and County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum provided analysis opposite to the popular interpretation on this site: that the mental health diversion and treatment programs included in the millage were not so much a bribe to Ann Arbor progressives to make jail expansion easier to swallow, but that jail expansion was going to happen regardless, and the “tough-on-crime” campaign that we all saw was an attempt to make the mental health parts of the millage easier to swallow for the rest of the County. Larry noted that the February millage was probably the best chance Washtenaw had to make sure that something other than just cell expansion occurred.

A second-choice proposal (pdf) has been issued by County Administrator Bob Guenzel, reflecting this. While Guenzel notes that he still believes everything in the original package to be needed, the new proposal is cut down to closer to those things that the County will be forced to do by the state: expanding the jail, though by only half of the original capacity expansion, upgrading infrastructure and support (kitchen, medical, etc) facilities to reflect the expanded capacity, and providing some security enhancements at the Courthouses. $1 million annually is included for mental health diversion services. The implementation of this proposal would likely mean reducing the County’s spending on other services.

Guenzel concludes by again noting that this is not a long-term solution, but one meant to meet the County’s State-mandated needs:

It is my belief that this proposal is the best compromise to providing the immediate needs of the Public Safety & Justice system. It is, however, a watered down version of the original and will not result in all of the benefits that would have been gained had the millage passed. This proposal allows for short-term relief of overcrowding once the elements are implemented, not just through increased beds at the jail, but also through programming and efficiencies. . . It will gain us much, but the long-term solution is still in question. Many believe that even this will result in overcrowding, just at a higher level of capacity than it is now. That is possible, but this is the beginning rather than the end.

  1. The Criminal Justice Collaborative Council, of which I am the most junior member, voted to endorse “plan B” this afternoon, with only Sheriff Dan Minzey dissenting.

    The reason for the sheriff’s hesitation is that the most likely funding plan for the proposal is to delete 100 sheriff’s deputies from the budget, shutting down county support for the sheriff’s road patrol. If this passes, and it probably will, the rural townships will have to pay 100% of the cost of sheriff patrols, or raise the money to start their own police departments.

    Cutting out the county subsidy for road patrol is being fiercely opposed by those representing the rural and suburban townships which benefit from it, and supported by those representing the cities and townships which have their own police and don’t like subsidizing the other units.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 18 '05 - 09:52PM    #
  2. Larry,

    Is it truly a subsidy? If so, how much, and was there a rationale for it up to this point?
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 18 '05 - 10:05PM    #
  3. I say let ‘em pay for their own cops! What is the rationale for us subsidizing their cops? Our taxes are sky-high and theirs are piddly.

    This reminds me of when I got arrested in Pittsfield Twp at Kohl’s (long story, regarding despicable labor practices—ask me if you’re curious). There were only two cops on duty; one had a bad back. When we basically insisted on being arrested (charge: criminal trespass) the cops had to negotiate with us to walk out—they couldn’t physically remove us (we weren’t about to be dragged out anyway). Anyway… that’s what they get for their low taxes. Lucky for them we were basically acting in a symbolic fashion rather than intent on anything dramatic…

    The other cop apologized for arresting us, since he basically agreed with our position. That was an odd day…
       —Scott    Apr. 18 '05 - 11:28PM    #
  4. Pittsfield Towsnship has its own police department, funded by township dollars, so it’s in the same boat as the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

    It is traditional in Michigan for sheriff deputies to patrol rural roads and generally provide police services to areas outside of cities. This is extremely popular with township voters, but it is not mandated by state law, rather, it is optional on the county’s part.

    One thing in particular is NOT optional: counties are required to provide an adequate jail. And this requirement is enforceable by the courts and the state. However, very few voters care about the jail, so it gets short shrift politically.

    Dinner time. More about the road patrol subsidy in a subsequent post.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 18 '05 - 11:36PM    #
  5. Continuing…

    Up until 2000, some townships signed contracts with the county to pay for police services; others did not. The rates paid were widely varying, and it was not clear that the paying townships were getting any more or better service than the nonpaying townships.

    On the one hand, cities objected to subsidizing townships. On the other hand, it was thought to be more efficient and more regionally cooperative to have the sheriff’s department provide services rather than multiplying the number of police agencies.

    Hence, the county board, in 2000, enacted a policy to formalize and limit the subsidy to an amount equal to the revenue from 1/2 mill of property tax countywide. Townships which signed a contract and paid 66% of the cost would be subsidized by the county for the other 34%. Townships which didn’t pay would receive no police services from the county.

    A firestorm of protest erupted, but the county board stuck to this, and eventually most of the townships signed up and paid. However, the costs of the program turned out to be much more than expected, and the cost to the townships was a specific dollar amount set in the contract, so the county’s subsidy ended up being considerably more than what had been planned.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 19 '05 - 12:44PM    #
  6. Larry, your note on the way the contract was worked out sounds like somebody royally messed up – they used a formula to figure out the dollar amount, and then used the dollar amount, on the Township’s side, in the contract? Oops.
       —Murph    Apr. 20 '05 - 09:07PM    #
  7. No, it’s not like some planner calculated it out and wrote up the agreement for everybody to quietly sign. That contract was fought over line by line, in the midst of intense and very money-focused debate. The fact that the county assumed all the risk was not accidental.

    Tonight, the County Administrator is expected to recommend to the county board that the whole program be phased out in two years. There will be plenty more screaming, but this kind of action wouldn’t have been conceivable four years ago.

    Every township will have two years to figure out how to do local policing. Some will start police departments; others will join forces with other jurisdictions to contract for services or create joint police services; still others may choose to pay the county the full cost of sheriff deputies.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 21 '05 - 01:51PM    #
  8. The next test for Guenzel’s unnecessary revised jail expansion program comes soon. The deadline for submission of 15,000 petition signatures by the Save Our Sheriff Committee to force a vote on the jail construction bonds is, by law, a Sunday, September 25. So the real deadline is either Friday the 23rd or Monday the 26th.

    If the committee gets the signatures, then Guenzel and Company can forget about its new jail, since the voters will overwhelmingly reject the bonds.

    If, on the other hand, the committee doesn’t get the signatures, stay tuned for lawsuits from some townships over what they will say is the county’s breach of the promises made in 2000 about that 1/2 mill policy which Larry mentioned.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 18 '05 - 03:19PM    #