Sheriffs wrestle with budget woes

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Capital News Service
LANSING- The State Police are not the only law enforcement officials feeling the pinch of the state budget crisis.
As county governments are forced to cut their own budgets, sheriff’s offices across the state also have to adjust, including those in Mason and Manistee counties.
Terry Jungel, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said he worries that money is getting in the way of law enforcement.
“You can’t let economics drive the train of public safety,” he said.
Jungel said that uniformed services, which he described as all officers except traffic patrols, have suffered the most. He warned that such cuts, combined with state plans to release prisoners early, might lead to an increase in crime.
However, the Mason County Sheriff’s Department might not face any serious cuts in the 2010 budget, according to a county official.
County Administrator Fabian Knizacky said he couldn’t foresee any significant cuts in the sheriff’s office budget.
“The county board has the sheriffs’ office in priority,” he said. “We always try to maintain the sheriff’s office funding.”
Knizacky said he will know for certain after the Legislature works out the state budget.
The county board of commissioners’ efforts don’t go unappreciated, Undersheriff Thomas Trenner said. He applauded the board for handling budget cuts without severely damaging the sheriff’s office.
“The county has been pretty good to us so far,” Trenner said.
The department has been forced to cope with financial difficulties nonetheless. Cuts in funding have forced a cutback on nonessentials such as landscaping. By “trimming the fat,” as he called it, the department has avoided any staff reductions so far.
“I try anything I can before I have to lay staff off,” he said.
Even so, the department faces problems caused by funding at the state level.
Trenner said that his deputies have picked up routes that were once patrolled by State Police because the shrinking state trooper presence has left Mason County deputies handling even more duties.
Manistee County Sheriff Dale Kowalkowski said his office faces the same situation as his deputies cover shifts that troopers were forced to eliminate.
As a result, his department is looking to add another full-time deputy.
Kowalkowski also said that his department likely won’t see any budget cuts in 2010.
Both Kowalkowski and Trenner credit their county governments for the stability of their budgets.
The Manistee County board “runs a pretty tight ship,” Kowalkowski said. Although a strict budget can affect how he does his job, he said it also keeps his office running.
Knizacky said the Mason County board has struck a balance between staffing levels and finance.
“We try to budget pretty conservatively to start with,” he said. “When times are good, we can build a reserve for when times are not as good.”
The situation Kowalkowski and Trenner face is not uncommon, said Thomas Hickson, the legislative affairs director of the Michigan Association of Counties.
Counties across the state have had to pick up services that other governments have dropped, Hickson said. He also said he’s concerned about possible cuts in state revenue sharing with counties.
If that happens, county governments may have to adjust their budgets once more, he said.
Jungel, of the sheriffs’ association, said, “The advice I’ve been giving the sheriffs is, buckle up ‘cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”

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