HARRISVILLE - After voting it down on Aug. 7, Alcona County citizens will have another opportunity in November to support or reject a millage for the Huron Undercover Narcotics Team.
Following a meeting on Friday with Sheriff Doug Atchison, Prosecutor Tom Weichel, Alcona Community Schools Superintendent Shawn Thornton and board of education member Gary Sims, the Alcona County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of putting the failed HUNT millage back on the ballot on Nov. 6. Kevin Boyat and Bill Thompson voted against the proposal, while Kathy Vichunas, Carolyn Brummund, and Sheila Phillips voted for it. The millage, which residents recently voted down 1,375-1,245 for the first time, would be the third renewal of 0.1453 mills and raise about $111,000 a year to support HUNT's law enforcement efforts and drug interdiction services in the county, identical to previous proposals except for the restriction of its duration from six years to three.
Boyat said the board also considered a millage to support the sheriff's office exclusive to HUNT but decided it would be asking too much of the taxpayers, and if the HUNT millage passes in November, it could fund the sort of part-time school resource officer proposed last week by Citizens for Alcona First.
"I don't think it's fair to the public," he said. "(The HUNT millage) was voted on first, and it passed, so we decided for the public, putting up two millages, if they're both passed, (is) a lot more taxes on people. And they said they could use the HUNT person for part of the school, so we're going to try that."
Commissioner Kathy Vichunas said she supported the controversial millage because some churches and other local organizations already do the sort of outreach that a school officer might provide, but HUNT's capacity to deal with more dangerous issues is necessary and irreplaceable.
"Based on the public that was there and the comments that were made, I just felt that Alcona County couldn't be without HUNT, that maybe we don't have a serious drug problem now, but it would only be a question of time, and my main concern was the trickle-down crimes that could result from marijuana and other things," she said. "When they call the state troopers in or HUNT, HUNT sends in eight officers, so they provide us assistance that we wouldn't really have with just the sheriff's department."
Weichel believed several misconceptions contributed to the millage's failure in the primary election, particularly the idea that Alcona County citizens send $600,000 a year to Alpena.
"That does not happen, never has happened. The millage funds two local officers who primarily focus on Alcona County and keeping Alcona County safe," he said. "The HUNT millage pays for two Alcona County deputies, so first and foremost, any time you lose police officers, it has an impact on public safety. These police officers are primarily assigned to Alcona County. They do most of their work in Alcona County, regardless of what others say ... They provide other services and aid the sheriff's department in various different investigations."
He was adamant that the organization's very presence in the county is a prevention tool to contain narcotics distribution and said the sheriff department is "absolutely not" equipped to handle the issues HUNT does. He also rejected the notion that HUNT focuses on "harassing" medical marijuana patients.
"HUNT focuses on, and their primary marching orders are, the enforcement of controlled substance laws. I handle probably, at any given time, 10 open HUNT cases which range from possession with intent to distribute heroin, to cocaine possession, to possession with intent to distribute cocaine, to the illegal distribution of prescription narcotics; so the statements that are made out there that all HUNT does is focus on the medical marijuana patients are absolutely untrue," Weichel said. "They focus on individuals who are in violation of the law, and if they happen to be medical marijuana patients, then they are, but they focus on a violation of the law."
Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693.