Gaines Township voters to decide police millage in May

GAINES TWP. — The Gaines Township Board of Trustees will ask voters one last time to save the township police department.

“We do not have the resources to fund the police out of the general fund,” said township Supervisor Paul Fortino. “We are pretty much out of options.”

May 4, voters will determine the fate of the department when they cast their ballots for or against a 0.89-mil, five-year millage request.

If approved, the millage will generate about $179,000 in the first year and cost the owner of a $100,000 house $3.71 monthly, or $44.50 annually.

If the millage fails, township officials will continue the process of dissolving the department, a process that began last week when the Board of Trustees voted to lay off all police personnel except Chief Mark Schmitzer, effective April 1.

Schmitzer, who recently accepted a position as chief of the Corunna Police Department, said he will handle administrative matters for the Gaines Township police and “keep the department on life support” through the election. Emergency calls and other complaints will be handled by the state police, he said.

Over the last few months, patrol hours have been reduced and officers have been tying up loose ends in open cases, Fortino said.

“The process of shutting down the police department is lengthy and there are a lot of legal issues involved,” Fortino said. “It’s not something any of us want to do. This is an impossible situation.”

With 0.89 mils, the township could afford to put an officer on the road five or six shifts a week, he said.

“That will give us some stability and we will know where we stand budget wise,” said Fortino.

The last time the board asked the public to support the agency was in November of 2019. Voters defeated the measure by a vote of 1,276 against to 457 in favor.

At that time, the ask was for a $115 annual assessment on improved properties, which would have generated $302,656 in the first year.

The request came after the previous levy of 0.5 mil expired in December of 2018. The half-mil raised about $90,425 in its final year, and the township used about $79,704 from the general fund. That request was approved by a single vote in 2013.

In 2020, there were five elections countywide, but Fortino said township officials were reluctant to go back to the voters so soon after the resounding defeat of the assessment.

“We didn’t know what they would support,” he said. “We don’t have the money to operate (the department). So, we either have to get the money to operate or I guess we have to shut it down.”