Cass County forms law enforcement millage committee

Published 10:39 am Friday, February 23, 2024

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CASSOPOLIS — With less than three months before ballot wording has to be submitted for the August election, Cass County Commissioners met in special session Wednesday to form a law enforcement millage committee. The deadline for proposals to be put on the Aug. 6 ballot is May 14.

The law enforcement millage concept was first raised last week by Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz at the county board’s Committee of the Whole. He noted that a new law enforcement millage could raise money for both his office and the Cass County Sheriff’s Office so they can better attract and retain employees.

Fitz said last week that the challenges the sheriff’s department and prosecutor’s office are facing are also being felt by other county departments.

“It’s very much on the radar of everybody,” he said. “We want to attract and retain high quality staff, provide the best services possible and explore creative and flexible compensation packages.”

     Details about what a new law enforcement millage might look like in terms of the size or length of the levy weren’t given last week or this week and will be likely be ironed out in the new committee that was formed. The committee is also likely to look at what should be done with the county’s half-mill drug enforcement millage which is up for renewal this year.

     At Wednesday’s special meeting, commissioners voted first to create the committee and then to set its membership. Membership will include four county commissioners, local police and government officials, the sheriff and the prosecutor-or their deputies and County Administrator Matthew Newton.

     County commissioners on the committee will be Mary Howie, Ryan Laylin, RJ Lee and Roseann Marchetti. Local officials to be on the committee include Dowagiac City Manager Kevin Anderson, Ontwa Township Edwardsburg Police Department Chief Doug Westrick and Cassopolis Village President David Johnson.

     County Board Chairman Jeremiah Jones said that the committee meetings will be open to the public and that public input will be considered in the committee’s deliberations. Other commissioners also talked about giving the public the opportunity to weigh in with their opinions.

Jones directed Newton to propose meeting dates to the committee and get a consensus on what date will work for the first meeting.     

     The county board’s action came after comments from officials and residents at the start of Wednesday afternoon’s meeting. People urged commissioners and the new committee members to consider the impact the proposed millage will have on local municipalities and to work with local officials before developing a final proposal.

     Dowagiac resident Naomi Ludman asked the county board to explore what other resources the county has to support law enforcement before going for a millage. She asked if the county’s rainy day fund could be used to provide more funding instead of asking for a new millage. She encouraged commissioners to be transparent about the process.

     Fitz spoke briefly at the start of the meeting.

“I appreciate you acting promptly to form a committee,” he said. “It’s important to hear from all the people of Cass County.”

     Jim Pedersen of Cassopolis said he thinks the way to fix the county’s staffing problem is to offer good benefits.

“Nothing retains good people more than defined benefit pensions,” he said. “The way to fix the problem is to engage in meaningful collective bargaining. It’s not just about raising money but how you go about negotiating.”