Cass County to pursue drug enforcement, senior services millage renewals

Published 2:40 pm Friday, May 3, 2024

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CASSOPOLIS — Cass County Commissioners made it official Thursday as they voted to place the renewal of the drug enforcement millage on the Aug. 6 ballot. Commissioners also voted to put the senior services millage renewal on that that ballot as well.

With the senior services millage renewal, county residents will be asked to renew the millage levy last brought to voters in 2020. That levy being asked for is 0.9858 mill for a period of four years. If approved, the levy is expected to raise over $2.7 million in the first year to support services at the Cass County Council on Aging.

The placement of the drug enforcement millage on the August ballot comes after County Commissioners and other county officials debated earlier this year whether to also go for a law enforcement millage to raise funds to address staffing shortages in the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices.

After a handful of committee meetings on the subject in late winter and early spring, officials ended up agreeing to concentrate on renewing the drug enforcement millage rather than going for a new millage.

With Thursday’s action, voters will decide the fate of the millage renewal which was first brought before voters in 2004 to fund the operation of a countywide drug enforcement and prosecution team for four years. That millage has been brought back to and approved by voters every four years since then.

The proposal that will be on the Aug. 6 ballot asks people to renew a 0.4751 mill levy for four years in support of law enforcement, criminal justice and public safety. Funds raised would be used to pay for enforcement, prosecution, education and treatment. The levy is expected to raise over $1.3 million in the first year of the new levy.

The staffing concerns in the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices raised earlier this year were also addressed at Thursday’s meeting. Sheriff Rick Behnke and Prosecutor Victor Fitz both gave updates on their efforts to find more personnel.

Behnke reported that the sheriff’s office is sending four area residents to the Police Academy at Lake Michigan College for the session starting next week. The four young men are from Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Sodus. They have already gone through some training and testing with the sheriff’s office.

In his report, Fitz announced that he has hired veteran prosecutor Ken Stecker to join the prosecutor’s office here. He noted that his office has had very few applicants for assistant prosecutor openings in the last couple of years but reported that he was able to recruit an attorney with a stellar reputation.

“I’ve done a lot of recruiting and we’ve had a new assistant prosecutor join our office this week,” Fitz said. “He’s served in Kalamazoo County as an assistant prosecutor and was also the chief assistant prosecutor in Branch county … We’re thrilled to have him, he’s tried over 100 jury trials.”

“He’s been with the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan for the last decade and a half and he is a traffic expert for the state of Michigan,” he added. “He’s a nationally known speaker on traffic safety issues. I talked with him several times a week for a few months and convinced him to spend last few years of his career in Cass County.”

In other recognitions, county commissioners approved resolutions commemorating National Correctional Officers Week May 5-11 and National Police Week May 12-18 including Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15. The Cass County Sheriff’s Office will hold a memorial service for Shane Britton, the only Cass County officer killed in the line of duty, on May 15 at 12 noon at the sheriff’s office.

Commissioners also recognized National Professional Municipal Clerks Week from May 5-11 and Undersheriff Clint Roach’s completion of the Northwestern University School of Police and Staff Command Programs.

In addition to announcing the hiring of a new prosecutor, Fitz announced the winners of the recent Victim Rights Week Book Cover contest. Nearly a dozen children attended the meeting and received certificates of appreciation from commissioners.

“It’s an annual event but a fund event and a great thing for the kids,” Fitz said. “Sometimes we have to call kids into court as a witness to something really serious or as a victim of really dangerous stuff.”

“They are really nervous and scared,” he added. “We have a comfort dog to sit beside them and we also get to look at your books and see your pictures to see what court is all about. These pictures really make a difference.”

In other action, commissioners authorized the submission of a notice of intent to EGLE to prepare a materials management plan with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, approved a new police contract with Silver Creek Township, approved a contract to complete the Public Defender Office renovations and accepted a proposal for repairs to the Law & Courts building.

A tax sharing policy was approved while action on a new conflict of interest and ethical standards policy was tabled. The latter policy will be sent back to the policy committee to review changes and then brought back to the board.