Gaines Township to disband police department after millage fails

GAINES TWP. — Gaines Township voters have pulled the plug on the township police department.

The small, rural department had been on life support since funding dried up March 31, the end of the previous fiscal year. The only hope of survival was the request for 0.89 mils, which failed by a vote of 1,223 to 594 with just less than a third of the 5,558 registered voters casting ballots in Tuesday’s election.

“Everything went down here,” said township Treasurer Diane Hyrman. “The 911 millage (and) mental health (millage) was voted down in our township. At least we got protection from mosquitos. But we won’t have any police in our township.”

A request for a $35 per-property assessment to pay for mosquito control passed by a vote of 950-862.

Gaines Township voters opposed the Genesee County mental health millage by a vote of 1,175 against to 619 in favor, and the county 911 surcharge, by a vote of 929 against and 885 in favor. Countywide, both of those requests were passing as of press time Wednesday morning.

Police funding has long been a source of division among township residents.

“That is ridiculous,” one township resident said of the election results. “I couldn’t believe all the ‘no taxes’ signs. Of course, tax dollars pay for police. Now we have none. Fools.”

“We might as well put out an ad to every stinking thief in the surrounding area, we now will have no local police protection,” another township resident commented. “To those who are complaining of higher taxes, Gaines Township is one of the lowest-taxed townships in the county.”

“The people of Gaines Township have spoken again,” said resident Melissa Neal. “Most would agree, we would be willing to approve a restructured police department with an actual police board separate from the township board to monitor the new department.”

The Michigan State Police and county sheriffs will respond when called but won’t dedicate a car to patrol the community.

The five-year police millage would have raised about $179,000 in the first year to maintain the local department on a shoestring. Previously, the township had funded the agency via a 0.5- mil levy, which raised about $90,000 in its final year. The millage expired in December 2019.

The township supplemented the police budget with money from the general fund. But with no millage, and rising expenditures in other budget categories, there was not enough money left over to keep the department going.

The three part-time officers turned in their badges, guns and protective gear April 1, and Chief Mark Schmitzer stayed on part time to “keep the department on life support” pending the election.

Now, Schmitzer will help the township liquidate the police assets. Open cases will either be wrapped up in the next few months or turned over to the state police. The township may incur some costs if the former officers have to appear in court on any of the open cases.

In the moments after the final votes were counted Tuesday night, Hyrman remarked, “Tomorrow, we will have to announce at our meeting that the police department is going to be disbanded. We have no police in Gaines Township. We’re not happy, but what are we going to do?”