COLDWAtER, MI (WTVB) - Who should have first priority…female inmates at the Branch County jail or the general population at large with regards to the public’s safety and well being. That’s how several citizens saw it yesterday when they expressed outrage at the County Board of Commissioners and the Board’s approval of a 2013 budget that will bring the January First layoff of 11 Sheriff’s Department road patrol deputies.
The jail for several years has faced chronic female inmate overcrowding that at times finds the lockup with well over twice the number of women behind bars than the facility is designed to hold. It’s an issue that reportedly needs to be addressed sooner rather than later and the funding to remodel the jail to handle the large female population would come from the jail maintenance millage account that currently has a balance of about 400-thousand dollars.
When voters last month rejected a tax increase to fund the Sheriff’s Department road patrol, Commissioners said the department would have to slash spending by a million dollars. That could only happen by cutting jobs with the elimination of 11 of the 14 road deputies. However, retiring Sheriff Warren Cannon and Sheriff elect John Pollack formulated a temporary one year fix that called for using 300-thousand dollars from the jail maintenance levy to pay for at least part time road coverage while other options are reviewed including a second attempt at a road patrol millage.
As the County Board’s budget planning proceeded, the temporary solution gained traction and that money was included in the 2013 general fund budget that was on the Commission’s agenda yesterday. But when push came to shove, a divided County Board ultimately decided the jail maintenance funding and dealing with the female inmate dilemma was the number one priority. The motion before the Commission to keep the money in the budget to minimize the deputy layoffs lost on a 4-4 tie vote and then the Board agreed by a 6-to-2 majority to remove the 300-thousand dollars from the budget plan. It’s a decision that clears the way for the layoffs which will leave basically a skeleton road patrol with only 3 deputies and 3 sergeants for 24-7 coverage. Sheriff-elected Pollack told the Board that while the road patrol is not mandated, it is a matter of law that the county must fund his department at a serviceable level, something Pollack said is not do-able with the layoffs. It appears the fate of the deputies’ jobs may end up in court for the judicial system to sort out.