Alcona County voters turned down a millage for the Huron Undercover Narcotics Team again on Tuesday, having voted it down the first time in August.
The proposal to renew a levy of 0.1458 mills to fund HUNT's operations in Alcona County for another two years failed 2,575 in favor to 3,328 against, meaning the county will lose at least one local officer and pay about $111,000 less in taxes next year.
Summarizing many common criticisms from voters who turned down the millage in August, "Citizens for Alcona First" member Paul Peterson has called the millage a poor use of taxpayers' money. He has cited HUNT's ballooning budget and recent controversies, the fact that a disproportionate amount of its money gets tied to investigations in Alpena, and his own preference for substance abuse prevention over punishment as reasons the county should employ a school resource officer and drop HUNT.
Though HUNT's grant funding requires it to serve Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties, Sheriff Doug Atchison said he was concerned about his department's ability to maintain services with a significantly reduced HUNT presence.
"I have an outstanding fear that I've had all along on the effect it will have on law enforcement overall in Alcona County, and the potential effect it will have not just on the elimination of the narcotics unit but the potential reduction in staff for the sheriff's department itself," he said.
Atchison expects to lose two local officers, though he has yet to nail down his budget for next year.
"There's two officers, but there's a trickle down effect with the labor agreement that I have, the union contract, where I have to eliminate part timers before I can eliminate full-timers, so there are a lot of underlying effects that are going to be taking place because of this millage being defeated," he said. "It's something I have not worked out yet."
The county cannot put another HUNT millage on the ballot until 2014, and Atchison said he is not optimistic about being able to meet local requests for a school resource officer in HUNT's place.
"I will barely have enough staff now to maintain road patrol, let alone put somebody in the school," he said. "I don't see that being an option."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.