By Pat Maurer
After talking about it for months and despite at least two board members’ concerns for public safety, the Grant Township Board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to terminate their contract for road patrol with the Clare County Sheriff’s Department on December 31.
The board started talking about the cost of the road patrol contract last April, and about balancing the need for extra patrol in the township with the need to maintain, repair and improve the township roads.
Supervisor Dan Dysinger said in September, “It [the road patrol contract] came to our attention in the spring. This line item (road patrol) came up. The 2005 contract expired in 2007. Since then we have been paying it month to month.”
Grant shares a full time road patrol officer with Surrey Township, with each township getting 20 hours of additional patrol each week.
The cost for the contract with the Sheriff’s Department is around $20,000 annually. Grant Township has paid Clare County for extra patrol time each year since 2002. Supervisor Dan Dysinger said in an earlier meeting that $21,000 was budgeted for 2011-12, while actual expenditures were $18,693.11.
A memo recommending terminating the contract, drafted by Surrey Supervisor Dan Dysinger and Treasurer Tammy Shea, was presented to each of the board members at Tuesday’s meeting. The memo recommended putting the road patrol funds into a fund for road improvements.
Shea said, “Although this is my decision, I owe the residents an explanation. My vote is not my personal opinion because I am a strong supporter of public safety.” She continued, “For the last two months I have contacted township residents about this. Most either lean toward supporting the road maintenance or they want to vote on the matter.”
Trustee Margery Bell said she also is a strong supporter of the additional road patrol, but that she respects the township residents’ opinions that the road needs are also very important. “I like the protection, we have used it a lot, but $20,000 will do a mile of roads.”
In September Dysinger said, “It is no secret where I stand on this. My position is that we would like to spend some money on our roads because they are in dire need. From my point of view, what we would spend [on additional road patrol] could be put to good use for improvements on gravel roads.”
Several audience members at the September meeting questioned the need for the extra patrol contract. One resident said, “I don’t see what we are getting for our money now. We have been doing this for ten years.” Another questioned, “: I don’t know why we are paying extra for a man when the Sheriff (department) is the protector of the public.”
The board had earmarked around 330,000 to road improvements in the annual budget, but according to a study by Rowe Incorporated, who inspected the condition of the township roads, the township needs about $4.3 million to properly improve and maintain both the deteriorating paved and gravel roads.
In August the board had heard a report from Rowe about the needs of the roads in the township. The report estimated that $3.6 million is needed for asphalt projects and $650,000 for improvements to gravel roads. It outlined the needed road projects over a ten-year time frame. At that meeting, Dysinger said, “We probably have enough funds to do the first two years of projects then our funds will be gone.”
The cost of the study, approximately $6,800 was paid for equally by the township and Clare County Road Commission, Dysinger said at the October meeting.
The memo also recommended that the board talk about a millage vote to support additional patrol. “We would need about 1/3 of a mill to fund it,” Dysinger said. “This really should be something that the voters decide, but we cannot hold a referendum for the voters to decide on what we spend general funds on. That would be an advisory question. We can only ask them for a millage.” He also recommended that the board discuss a millage proposal especially for road projects.
The third item on the memo was the requirement that the board give the Sheriff’s Department 30 days-notice of their intention of discontinue the road patrol contract and it was also approved by the board unanimously.
Dysinger also noted that in looking back through invoices and correspondence, that additional mileage fees, approved in August, 2011 by the board, were never verified by written letter with the Sheriff’s Department as stipulated in the contract. “I would like permission to ask the Sheriff’s Department for a refund of the additional mileage fee,” he told the board. “The fee was never verified in writing by either this board or by the Sheriff’s Department.” He did say later that the monthly invoices from the Sheriff’s Department were approved for payment by the board.
Dysinger also asked the township board for permission to contact the State about the unfunded mandated changes to the election law. “Those costs mount in small pieces. They chip away at the small revenues we have. The Headlee Amendment requires that if the State requires extra services, State appropriations (to pay those costs) will follow.”
The board approved having Dysinger contact with the State in a letter of disagreement to both State Senator Emmons and Booher and to State Representative Joel Johnson.
In other matters, the board heard reports from Eddy Garver of the Road Commission; Leonard Strouse of the County Commission, Deputy Natasha Kress of the Sheriff’s Department; and approved the payment of bills totaling $17,371.14.