November 1, 2014

AuGres-Sims police facing cuts

By Kevin Bunch
Staff Writer | news@arenacindependent.com
Posted

AuGRES — The AuGres-Sims Police Department could lose one or both of its officers without an overhaul of the budget agreement between the city of AuGres and Sims Township, according to Lavonne Pritchard, AuGres deputy treasurer.

The department is funded by both AuGres city and Sims Township through millages. Sims Township funds its portion of the department’s budget with a 1-mill millage. AuGres residents pay a 3.06-mill millage for the two-officer police force every year, which comes out to $64,000.

The department’s total budget is $170,000, and Pritchard said that cost is split between the municipalities, with Sims Township and AuGres paying $85,000 each.

AuGres has been covering the shortfall its millage cannot cover through its police fund balance, but will no longer have the money to do so in the coming fiscal year.

“After this fiscal year, our (police) fund balance is depleted,” Pritchard said. “We’re looking at different avenues and different options.”

Pritchard said the two municipalities, which are the coverage zone for the police department, plan to have representatives at the upcoming AuGres Township and Whitney Township board meetings, on Feb. 13 and 14 respectively, to gauge interest in those communities for joining the department’s coverage area. Currently both communities are covered by the Arenac County Sheriff’s Department.

The Sims Township Board meets on Feb. 21 and will discuss the issue.

“If we join with Whitney or AuGres Township, it’s got to help,” Pritchard said. “If we couldn’t get any help, we would go back to the drawing board.”

Sims Township Supervisor Rodney Francis said the AuGres-Sims police force has sought grant money from the Saginaw-Chippewa Tribe to help cover its budget, but has never received the necessary funds.

He added the department already assists the sheriff’s department in neighboring townships by covering calls for service when county deputies are unavailable.

“It’s always been an understanding that we’re in this together,” Francis said. “The townships and the Chippewa tribe need to understand we’re more than just a local police force.”

If AuGres and Whitney townships aren’t interested in joining, Pritchard said the force could have to be reduced by at least one officer; the number originally budgeted by the city prior to receiving a federal grant to add a second one in the mid-’90s.

Another option includes requesting that Sims Township pay more to fund the department. Pritchard said the township has grown since the agreement was initially drafted in the 1980s, and AuGres city residents feel slighted that they pay more money per person for the same service. Both municipalities have similar populations figures.

Francis said it would be difficult for the township board to ask citizens to “dig a little deeper” and raise the police millage, which would require a ballot proposal. He said board members would be meeting with residents to see what the township can do, however.

“We’re going to try and keep services at the highest level without asking for new taxes,” Francis said. “I’m more of the mind to make due with what we have, and make it work.”

Finally, Pritchard said the city of AuGres could disband the agreement entirely, covering only the city with one officer.

“A lot of residents are not aware of what’s going on, so if residents want to keep police coverage they need to speak out at their local board meetings,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard said representatives from AuGres city and Sims Township will meet at the AuGres Community Library Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. to discuss the next step.

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