Alcona County trims sheriff patrols

HARRISVILLE — Budgetary constraints in Alcona County mean Alcona County Sheriff’s Department deputies are no longer able to patrol the county 24 hours a day.

The county is being forced to trim its budget after voters twice rejected a property tax proposal earlier this year.

The sheriff’s office agreed to reduce patrol time by four hours after the proposal was rejected for the first time in August and will remain at 20 hours of patrol time throughout 2019, Undersheriff Scott Stephenson said.

Stephenson said the department is “running at bare minimum” right now, but believes deputies are still able to serve the community’s needs adequately.

“It’s a little bit more limited than it was and we’re going to have to make some decisions on maybe turning down some of the complaints we used to take,” he said, adding the department was pretty good about handling courtesy calls before but they may have to limit their response to them now.

He said the department has reached an agreement with the Michigan State Police for troopers to cover the county if something were to happen when the sheriff’s office is not available.

In addition to the cutting patrol time, the department has been unable to fill a couple of open full-time positions and a part-time position because of a hiring freeze the commissioners passed in August.

Stephenson said the budgetary cuts the department made in August satisfy the 10 percent reduction the county commissioners asked each department to cut from their budget for 2019 after voters nixed the property tax. The department will not refill any vacant positions in 2019.

County board Chairman Craig Johnston said Wednesday the decision to cut the sheriff’s department’s patrolling time, reduce the county’s contribution to a school resource officer, and impliment a countywide hiring freeze has helped to balance the budget. He hopes commissioners will have a little more fund balance left at the end of the year than they had earlier expected.

The Alcona County Board of Commissioners previously approved the first reading of the proposed 2019 budget in the amount of $4.9 million, $212,338 less than the budget originally proposed for the current fiscal year.

A public hearing for the 2019 budget will be held at 10 a.m. Dec. 12 in the county commission meeting room at the county building, 106 Fifth Street, Harrisville, according to the Alcona County Review.

Johnston said county commissioners do not plan to pursue another millage in 2019, as special elections held during odd years tend to be costly because local governments cannot piggyback on statewide ballots.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.