STANTON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners has OK’d sweeping staffing cuts, the largest concentration of which will be to public safety, as the county attempts to get its budget back in order.
Consultants Clark Hill and Rehmann Robson proposed the cuts that the commission approved during a Monday meeting. In all, the board agreed to eliminate 22.5 full-time equivalent positions (two part-time positions generally equal one full-time position):
- Four in the in judicial branch to save $267,203
- 5.5 in general government to save $515,583
- 10.5 from public safety to $849,221
- Two from the Commission on Aging to save $100,000
- 0.5 from the Friend of the Court to save $30,964
That adds up to more than $1.76 million in savings.
“We’re all just scrambling to see what does that mean in numbers,” Montcalm County Sheriff William Barnwell told 24 Hour News 8 Monday.
Barnwell said the cuts will leave his department with a “skeleton crew.” He’s being asked to strip $800,000 from his $2.1 million annual budget. He said he will try to trim other costs for things like gas and training to minimize staff cuts, but ultimately, he expects to lose six or seven deputies.
“I’m very concerned,” Barnwell said of the cuts. “We’re living in a world that’s not getting any safer, I don’t think, from the types of crimes we’re seeing and the population continues to grow. We have less police officers now working the streets in the sheriff’s office than we did in 1974 when I started. And the population has doubled.”
The sheriff’s office is small department that covers a lot of ground in the rural county. There are only 24 officers as it is — eight or nine of whom are contracted and paid for by local townships or cities. That leaves about 15 for the rest of the county’s 720 square miles. Now that number will be cut in half.
“Our hands are pretty much going to be tied,” Barnwell said. “It’s not going to give us any … time to go out and do proactive patrols and things like that. Traditional things that you’d think of.”
Consultants said the recommendations were “designed to minimize the impact on service delivery, as much as possible.” They are not expected to affect positions with other funding sources.
Consultants explained last week that the county has budgeted in a deficit during 12 of the last 13 years as county leaders overestimated how much money they would take in and didn’t decrease spending to square with actual revenue. Further, the consultants, said, leaders weren’t keeping a close enough eye on how the spending was affecting the general fund. As a result, the county is now some $2 million in the hole.
But some commissioners told 24 Hour News 8 Monday night that they didn’t know about the budget problems until just this spring. So the question that remains: How did the deficit issues go unresolved for so long?
“I think there’s a long- not a simple answer to it. It’s a complicated answer, but the bottom line is it falls on the employees and the citizens are the ones left being exposed,” Barnwell said.
In addition to the staffing cuts, the board will have to eliminate deficits in the budgets of several departments. The Board of Commissioners will meet next week to work to officially approve the 2017 budget and work on a 24-month cash flow projection and a deficit elimination plan to be filed with the state.
>>PDF: Proposed 2017 budget
Consultants did suggest a ballot initiative to restore revenue and services — but that would have to be approved by voters. Many county-wide millages have failed in recent years.
24 Hour News 8 reached out to the county controller — who covers finances — but he said he wasn’t available for an interview Monday night.