Sheriff prepares for ‘painful’ cuts, layoffs as deficit looms

Posted at 5:55 PM, Aug 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-24 17:55:46-04

MONTCALM COUNTY, Mich. — As many as seven deputies could be facing layoffs if Montcalm County leaders are forced to cut as much as $600,000 or more from the current sheriff's office budget to help address a looming county-wide $1.5 million deficit.

Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell said he was told to prepare for cuts in wake of revelations that expenses for the county had been outpacing revenue by an average of $2 million annually since 2012.

The county needs to reduce its expenses by an estimated $1.5 million.

“It’s going to be painful," Barnwell told FOX 17. "We can figure out how to balance the budget, but at what cost?”

The county employs 24 deputies, 10 of which are paid through contracts with local municipalities, according to Barnwell. The remaining 14 deputies, including the sheriff and undersheriff, are paid through the county's general fund, which means personnel cuts would have to come from those positions, Barnwell said.

Barnwell said he's working to determine other areas where cuts can be made to avoid solely cutting road patrol deputies.

“The lion’s share of any budget cuts come from personnel," he said. "I am concerned, depending on what the cuts are that potentially get made, that we’ll be reduced to just a few deputies."

The county lost its overnight road patrols to budget cuts in 2012, while five positions in the sheriff's office have gone unfilled in recent years in order to keep costs down, Barnwell said.

Similar to other counties, Michigan State Police troopers assist with calls and patrols in the area as needed.

Moving forward, Barnwell said he's just as anxious as others to learn how and why county officials continued to approve budgets for several years without receiving full audit presentations.

“The question becomes is it just misfeasance or is it malfeasance?  Did they knowingly do this or was it a situation that they were taken advantage of?” Barnwell questioned.

"The bottom line is we’re going to end up losing a lot of good people."

On Monday, the county board of commissioners unanimously approved the hiring of the Clark Hill law firm from Detroit to investigate previous budgetary practices and formulate a plan to balance future budgets. Commissioners also approved contracting with Municipal Financial Consultants Inc. to assist Clark Hill in the investigation.

Speaking against potential cuts to public safety during Monday's commission meeeting was Mike Kotenko, a sheriff's deputy nearly killed in the line of duty in Oct. 2015 when a fugitive shot him with a bow and arrow.

“I don’t want to have to see another officer injured or killed because you choose to cut from the sheriff’s department," he said. "I don’t know how deep these cuts are planned, but they will affect my family and yours."

According to averages compiled by Municipal Financial Consultants Inc., the county spent $1.5 million in 2012, $2.3 million in 2013, $2.5 million in 2014, and $2.3 million in 2015 from the general and delinquent tax fund to make up budget shortfalls.

County officials are facing down a Sept. 12 deadline to submit a deficit reduction plan to the state. Failure to do so could result in the withholding of a portion of funding provided through revenue sharing.

The county must approve a new budget by Sept. 30.