Editorial: Commissioners’ motion to eliminate police dept. was reckless.

July 7, 2015

Editorial by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Police protection in the City of Scottville costs most taxpayers less than $16 a month. That’s less than cable or satellite television or Internet. It’s certainly less than water and sewer. We’ll get back to that but I wanted you to see that in hopes that you read on.

During the regular meeting of the Scottville City Commission Monday night, two commissioners attempted to change the dynamics of our city. What began as a discussion about re-visiting the prospect of contracting with the Mason County Sheriff’s Office for police protection turned into a flat-out move to disband the city’s police department in one quick move.

Commissioner Don Pasco made a motion to eliminate the police department and it was supported by Commissioner Ed Hahn. Some discussion was held by the commissioners, which is typical parliamentary procedure, and then a vote was held. The motion was defeated 5-2, Pasco and Hahn being the only two to vote in favor. See the story here for more details

This topic was not a recommendation of the city’s public safety or finance committees. It was not a topic that was brought up when the city held its budget hearings back in the spring (the city’s fiscal year begins July 1). This topic was not the result of months of surveying the public and holding public meetings, as is a trait customary to Scottville governmental procedures. Rather, this was a reckless move by two commissioners to drastically change the safety and well-being of a town that already struggles with poverty and economic decline.

Let’s just imagine this for a minute or two.

Had the Scottville City Commission voted to eliminate the police department Monday night, according to the motion presented, two full time police officers, a part-time chief and five other part-time officers would be out of a job today. That’s eight families impacted. Not only that, the city would then have to pay unemployment benefits for those eight individuals.

Mr. Hahn had suggested that the Mason County Sheriff’s Office would pick up the slack. Well, that’s partially true. The fact is, the Mason County Sheriff’s Office is not authorized to enforce the city’s ordinances. Those ordinances include issues such as barking dogs, fireworks, property disputes, and many other issues that are not covered under state law. If I had a problem with my neighbor shooting off fireworks today, and the vote had gone in favor of eliminating the police department, I would have no choice but to attempt to take on the matter myself.

Unless it is compensated, the sheriff’s office cannot guarantee a dedicated deputy to the confines of the city limits of Scottville.

Let’s just see how quickly word would get out among the criminally-inclined that our city no longer had regular police coverage. As the chairman of the Scottville Clown Band Shell, we already struggle with issues of vandalism at the shell. I know that I can call SPD and they will not only be on the case, but they likely know the culprits.

The deputies of the Mason County Sheriff’s Office do an outstanding job. Many of these men I personally consider friends of mine. However, they are responsible for covering the entire county.

I live in Scottville. I own property in the city and I own two businesses that operate out of the city.  I also grew up in Scottville and am not naive to the fact that our little town isn’t what it used to be. Property values are down, state revenue sharing is down. This means the city generates less income. Finding ways to save money is admirable, but cutting the police department would ultimately be counter-productive and would likely result in even more economic decline. There’s an old saying in business, “you have to spend money to make money.”

The $150,000 a year the city spends in police protection is roughly the equivalent of 7.5 mills. A mill is equal to 1/1,000 of a dollar. According to City Manager Amy Williams, most homes in Scottville have an equalized value of around $25,000 on average. That means the average tax payer in Scottville pays $187.50 a year or $15.62 a month for police protection

How much do you pay for television per year? How about Internet? Can you hire a security guard to stay within one mile of your home for $15.62 a month?

If the city was to enter into a formal agreement with the sheriff’s office to provide a dedicated deputy and vehicle to the city, the cost would be about $108,000 per deputy per year.

The city commissioners responsible for this motion need to take time and consider all the consequences of such actions. Commissioner Ann Genson suggested that the city needed to survey the public through the process of public hearings and sending out letters. She said the commissioners were elected to represent the citizens, not just act on their own. Pasco countered that it was the commissioners’ job to make those decisions.

I agree with Commissioner Genson. This is not a decision that should be made lightly and such actions in other communities can often lead to recall drives of those elected (or appointed) to represent the citizens.

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