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Mich. PD’s chief is the only one on the force after public safety budget cuts

“Not a single council member has approached me and asked if I was looking for another officer,” Chief Bill Drollinger said. “They haven’t given me the clearance to make a hire — and I don’t believe they will”

One-cop shop: Bellaire relies on lone chief for police coverage

As of early November, I lost my other officer,” Drollinger said. “So right now, it’s just me.”

Village of Bellaire

By Travis Snyder
The Record-Eagle

BELLAIRE, Mich. — On a typical workday, Bill Drollinger patrols the streets of Bellaire, responds to emergencies and administers his duties as chief of the village police department.

That’s not new for Drollinger. What has changed for the chief is he’s it.

The Antrim County seat used to have three police officers, but the results of the Nov. 7 election made that staffing level financially unsupportable.

“As of early November, I lost my other officer,” Drollinger said. “So right now, it’s just me.”

In the Nov. 7 election, the village asked voters to approve a millage levy to help cover the cost of police operations. Kearney Township voters gave the request a thumbs-up by 4 votes. But Forest Home Township voters declined the request by 26 votes.

So, overall, out of 240 votes cast, the millage went down by 22 votes, 131-109. That’s 23 percent of the voters in a village that, according to the 2020 census, has a population of 1,036, including residents of both Forest Home and Kearney townships.

“We had a lot of support, but it was not enough to support this millage,” Drollinger said. “It’s put Bellaire to one-officer status.”

The other impact of the millage defeat, he noted, is that the village won’t be able to purchase a patrol car. “Our current vehicles are quite aged.”

Bellaire Village President Dan Bennett said the challenge with that levy request was the fact that public safety operations don’t bring in the kind of revenue that water or water treatment departments do.

“We have surpluses in those areas of the budget,” Bennett said, “but (the village) can’t transfer that money to the general fund to help with public safety.”

Typically, a village can’t move those funds around without authorization, or through a public vote. “We can’t pull from other [lines of the budget] to help us with the general fund,” Bennett said.

Initially, the department had a third officer, who was cut after village officials determined that the public safety budget needed to include the cost of pensions and insurance.

Attaching those pension and insurance costs to the respective village departments where they were incurred not only resulted in the loss of the third officer, “it was determined that the clerk, the treasurer and second officer would be cut to 32 hours a week,” the chief remarked.

That loss of hours was problematic for Drollinger’s other officer, Deputy Terry McBee, who is a father of six. “He left on his own because he lost a week a month,” the chief said. “He walked over to the county (sheriff’s office) and they increased his wages by 10k a year. That’s quite a carrot to dangle in front of an employee.”

Along with McBee, the village treasurer also left, he noted. So Nicole Essad, who was hired as the clerk/zoning administrator, took on the duties of treasurer.

Essad said they knew it would be a close vote on the police levy request.

“The Village Council thought that a millage for the police department would fund approximately half of its budget, thus lessening the expenditures for the general fund,” she said, adding, “If the village had stayed with three officers, that $149,653 from the millage would have funded approximately half of the police department budget.”

As it stands, the village public safety budget was approved at $265,933 for fiscal year 2023-24, which runs from March 1, 2023, to Feb. 29, 2024.

Drollinger says the village police budget is primarily what has been affected.

“It’s just difficult,” he said. “You can’t make heads or tails of what’s there. The Board of Public Works hasn’t been affected; the wastewater treatment plant is in good shape, the water department, and roads department ... they have money.”

“If you don’t have money, you don’t have money,” Drollinger added. “But, we don’t have anyone that can explain anything.”

The chief is not without backup, though. With the loss of the officers in the village, Antrim County Sheriff’s Office has helped pick up some of the slack and covers for Drollinger during his time off.

“Chief Drollinger and I work very well together,” Antrim County Sheriff Kevin Hoch said. “With him being on his own now, we’re always there to help him. We’ve got 602 square miles to cover. Between myself and my undersheriff, and our 23 deputies to cover that area, we’re there to assist in any way we can.”

According to a report from Antrim County, the sheriff’s office has responded to 2,908 calls in Bellaire since the beginning of 2022. Hoch said his deputies also provide public safety coverage for the villages of Central Lake, Elk Rapids, Ellsworth and Mancelona, since they don’t have their own local law enforcement officers.

As for future plans for police department staffing in Bellaire, Bennett said, “We’re going to have to talk to Chief Drollinger and look at all of our options. We will always be looking for ways to save money, but — let’s face it — we’re going to need more protection.”

The council has not indicated whether it’s contemplating a return to the voters. And Drollinger said no one has approached him about hiring another officer.

“Not a single council member has approached me and asked if I was looking for another officer,” he said, “They haven’t given me the clearance to make a hire — and I don’t believe they will.”


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