Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

County approves end to Sheriff's patrol subsidy

8. September 2005 • Murph
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At last night’s County Commission meeting, the Commissioners voted 7-4 to phase out the subsidy of Sheriff’s department patrols to parts of Washtenaw County that lack their own local police departments. Opponents of the decision plan to petition for a County-wide referendum to overturn it, which would require 15,000 signatures to be collected by 25 September in order to place the question on the February ballot.

Currently, the County subsidizes each Sheriff’s department deputy provided to local governments (“Police Service Unit”) at the rate of about $87,000 of the total $176,000 cost of the PSU; there are 90 such PSUs currently contracted for. The plan approved yesterday (pdf) would still allow local governments to contract for PSUs, and would maintain an as-of-yet unfinalized slate of “core services” (such as SWAT and K9), but would require the local governments requiring PSUs to pay the full cost, freeing up money for the County to use to modernize and expand the County Jail despite a bond proposal for that purpose being voted down last February.

Previous AU discussions:

  1. Note that the petitions being circulated are to force a vote on the borrowing for the jail and court construction (for which there is a 45 day referendum option), not on the sheriff patrol subsidy as such.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Sep. 9 '05 - 12:10PM    #
  2. Right, but both the AANews and Chelsea Standard are presenting the petitions as something that’s being done to, well, “Save Our Sheriff” is the group behind it. Are they hoping that, by derailing any construction proposal, the money will default back to the patrol subsidy? Or are they just being vengeful at having lost their subsidy?
       —Murph    Sep. 9 '05 - 01:50PM    #
  3. I support the petition drive because expanding the jail is the reason given for forcing the townships to pay more for police protection. Since some can’t afford to pay, some deputies will be fired.

    This whole thing can be blamed on one willful man – Bob Guenzel. He is willing to do anything, no matter how unscrupulous, to fund an unnecessary expansion to the jail.

    “Unnecessary” because crime is dropping steadily in Our Fair County. The criminal justice system should be getting smaller, not bigger.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 10 '05 - 05:04PM    #
  4. Dave,

    My personal best-case scenario would be to phase out the subsidy and not use the money to pay for a jail expansion.

    I can support some amount of improvements to the jail unflinchingly – prisoners have a right to a decent environment, and, under the current conditions, exercise areas, etc, are being used as holding areas and cannot be used for their intended purposes. Courthouse improvements in the name of, e.g., keeping the accused and witnesses separated and safe, I can also support.

    Also, in light of the post-election analysis provided by Larry in a previous discussion I can reluctantly support handling jail expansion on our own terms rather than having the State remove the issue from our hands.

    And, if the jail and courthouse renovations and expansions are the only way we’re going to get rid of the Sheriff’s road patrol subsidies to the townships, so be it. If people want police protection, well, that’s one of the things they pay taxes for. I pay taxes for police here in Ann Arbor. People pay taxes for police in Ypsi. People pay taxes for police in Pittsfield Township. Meanwhile, we’re also paying taxes to subsidize police in the fringes of the County, encouraging people to locate there by subsidizing their public services to an unnecessary degree, thereby creating the need to continues subsidizing police service, and at an increased rate. If we in Ann Arbor don’t want the Townships around us to Cantonize, we shouldn’t be making it the cheap and easy decision for people to make.
       —Murph    Sep. 10 '05 - 07:18PM    #
  5. Yep. Folks brag about their low taxes…but they are only low because others are paying the freight. If you want police protection, I’m afraid you have to pay for it.

    And honestly, how much will it cost the average homeowner in the townships to get that protection? What’s the cost-calculation?
       —JennyD    Sep. 10 '05 - 07:26PM    #
  6. Well, unfortunately, I expect it’s one of those things that would fall on farmers to an extent way out of proportion to the police service that they require (at least, until sprawl brings bored suburban teenagers into their midst) – which would hopefully serve as a brake on just hiking taxes and buying services, making the area less attractive to new sprawlizens.
       —Murph    Sep. 10 '05 - 08:11PM    #
  7. True. But in exchange for having to pay the taxes, farmers are sitting on a financial windfall in terms of their land. And many have realized nice profits when they sell to developers.
       —JennyD    Sep. 10 '05 - 08:59PM    #
  8. I wouldn’t say they are sitting on a financial windfall. For most farmers, their land is their 401k, pension, life savings, etc. The things that most of us take for granted in the public and private sector (health care benefits and retirement), they have to provide for themselves at retirement. That’s why so many of them sell out when the kids don’t take up the family farming business or they can’t sell to another farmer. They don’t have any alternative – how are they going to retire when there’s no pension or retirement fund to fall back on?

    That’s why PDR is such an important farmland preservation tool – it allows farmers to get the value out of that land without having the land converted to subdivisions, strip malls, etc.
       —John Q    Sep. 11 '05 - 09:05PM    #
  9. not only that, it creates a wealthy market for all those overpriced downtown lofts.

    or is that another conversation?
       —peter honeyman    Sep. 11 '05 - 09:35PM    #
  10. The police “subsidy” is not easy to get one’s arms around. There was a deal made in 2000 about the use of an existing county public safety millage. Plus, the townships apparently never got an accurate accounting of true police costs, despite their requests, until the current blow-up. According to the AA News, Mike Moran, the quite reasonable supervisor of Ann Arbor Twp, says what Guenzel and Company have done puts the nail in the coffin for any kind of regional cooperation.

    Also, the Sheriff Department helps out the local police departments (e.g. Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Twp.) quite a lot.

    Guenzel has managed to create a firestorm by (1) not abiding by the will of the people as expressed in the February defeat of the jail millage; and (2) pit groups against each other in a way not recently seen here.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 11 '05 - 11:18PM    #
  11. No, there was not any existing public safety millage in 2000 to my knowledge. Rather, a deal was worked out that the county’s subsidy of road patrol would be reduced to the equivalent of 1/2 mill of property tax revenue.

    With the need to fix the district court facility and build more jail cells, together with the absence of any new revenue to support those needs, and cost overruns in police services, that half-mill deal could not be sustained.

    The will of the people in February was not to raise their property taxes to pay for the jail/court proposal offered by the county. Numerous folks (including township officials) have come to the county board to say that they strongly support jail expansion, but opposed the millage.

    Why? Quite a few say emphatically that they could not support a jail millage that included mental health services or court renovation. Others insist that the county can cut other programs (rather than raise taxes) to fund the needed jail expansion.

    Lacking any better option, the county board is doing the latter.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Sep. 12 '05 - 06:55AM    #
  12. With the filing of 23,000 petition signatures to force a referendum, a political revolution has occurred. Never before in Michigan history have so many signatures been gathered in so short a time.

    I think this is the end for Guenzel and Company. They may withdraw their proposed bond issue, or they may see themselves crushed in the bond referendum vote.

    Guenzel’s supporters on the Board of Commissioners will probably face primary election opposition next August.

    Plus – this just in. A usually reliable source says that the people behind the petition drive are investigating doing recall campaigns against some commissioners, even before the primaries.

    Guenzel and his cronies have run afoul of the oldest rule in politics: “Vox populi, vox dei.”
       —David Cahill    Oct. 1 '05 - 11:06PM    #
  13. Plus – this just in. A usually reliable source says that the people behind the petition drive are investigating doing recall campaigns against some commissioners, even before the primaries.

    Did your usually reliable source get this information to you post-haste via the Pony Express? The recall thing is very old news, and is generally considered to be laughably legless. But that’s cool, let them waste their time. Just like the petition drive was a waste of time. As Murph pointed out, even if the Board were to decide to put the language on the ballot, that only calls into question the County’s ability to sell bonds to pay for the needed improvements. Not whether to do the improvements themselves.

    There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and you don’t need to sell bonds to buy the knife.
       —Mike    Oct. 3 '05 - 03:02PM    #
  14. Also, the Sheriff Department helps out the local police departments (e.g. Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Twp.) quite a lot.

    True, if you consider 1% to be “quite a lot.” One percent of the Sheriff’s department responses occur in another police department’s jurisdiction.

    I’ll repeat that: One percent.
       —Mike    Oct. 3 '05 - 03:17PM    #