By ELAINE MALLON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Only 85% of the costs for a non-highway road patrol officer can be covered by the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department, according to Undersheriff Jeff Warder.
The Livingston County Commission has pulled funds from the county’s general budget to cover the costs of a second non-highway patrol officer because of state cuts in the secondary road patrol grant, Warder said.
Through the support of the county commission, the sheriff’s department will be able to keep its second non-highway patrol officer, he said.
The funding cut affects over 100 non-highway road patrol officers across the state. However, many counties are looking for alternative funding through their local governmnet budget.
The state money allowed for more officers to patrol roads not connected to primary highway systems, such as country backroads, and part of the money came from a $10 surcharge on speeding tickets.
Executive Director Matt Saxton of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said the situation in Livingston County is mirrored in all 83 counties across the state.
However, the funding cut doesn’t impact all sheriff departments evenly, Saxton said.
While Livingston County struggles to afford its secondary road patrol officers, Crawford County Sheriff Shawn Kraycs said cuts in state funding haven’t affected his department yet.
“Our community has embraced and blessed us with some millage monies that keeps us on the road,” Kraycs said.
Gov. Gretechen Whitmer cut approximately $13 million for secondary road patrol for the 2020 fiscal year.
While cuts in secondary road patrol funding occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic, Warder said the pandemic has put greater restraints on his department’s funding for secondary road patrols.
“The cost of COVID-19 to the state will have a negative impact on a lot of programs,” Warder said “And this may be one of them.
“Obviously, we have a problem because the secondary road patrol is there for a reason. It’s for the overall safety of the public so when we get cut like that, it’s difficult to deal with sometimes,” he said.
In addition to a drop in funding, departments have adjusted to social distancing guidelines and limited public encounters by reducing traffic stops.
Fewer traffic stops meant fewer speeding tickets carrying a $10 surcharge, which reduced the available money for secondary road patrols.
According to Saxton, having fewer deputies patrol secondary roads harms the state.
“Anytime there’s a decrease in traffic enforcement, we see an increase in drivers making more risky decisions, which leads to more serious accidents,” Saxton said.
“We see more fatal accidents on those secondary roads as opposed to on our freeways and highways, even though more of our motoring public is on those freeways and highways,” he said. “We see those risky decisions more so on the secondary roads when you have drunk drivers taking back roads or speeding.”
The pandemic reduced the number of drivers on the roads.
And while 2020 saw a 22% decrease in total crashes statewide, the number of crash deaths was higher last year than 2019, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning.
In 2020, 1,026 people died in traffic accidents in Michigan, although there were 80,000 fewer crashes, Saxton said.
While those numbers are more reflective of COVID-19 restrictions than of budget cuts, they show how a decreased law enforcement presence adversely impacts road safety, Saxton said.
Livingston County’s Warder said he wants the Legislature and governor to create a budget with greater support not only for secondary road patrols, but also for the entire sheriff department’s traffic activities as well.
“We lack the safety that visibility can give us,” Warder said. “With less deputies out there, there’s less ways that they are able to keep the roads safe.”